The na­ture of things

Gold­crest and firecrest

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country Notebook - Edited by Vic­to­ria Marston

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

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