The nature of things
Goldcrest and firecrest
IN numerous districts, goldcrests are noticeable at this time of year, although in the 18th century, the naturalist Gilbert White declared them ‘almost as rare as any bird we know’. Large numbers arrive from Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, hoping for a winter sojourn with tolerable temperatures, adding many thousands to our resident population.
You’re likely to hear these sociable creatures before you see them, their high-pitched tinkling calls raining down from the treetops, particularly conifers. It’s unmistakable, yet it’s one of the first songs that cease to be registered by the human ear when hearing deteriorates with age.
Even smaller than wrens, softly bottle-green and beige goldcrests (top left and bottom left) weigh in at just 6g, half that of a blue tit. They flit about in restless flocks, often with their equally diminutive relatives the firecrests (top right and bottom right) and also with tits, searching out insect morsels and eggs, in bark crevices and the leaf-undersides of evergreens.
Historically, goldcrests became known as ‘woodcock pilots’, as they seemed to arrive from across the North Sea just ahead of the waders. Although both goldcrest and firecrest display a bright, yellow-to-orange flash on the crown, the rarer firecrest is most easily separated by also having black-and-white stripes across the eye area. KBH
Illustration by Bill Donohoe