12 November 2014

0utside a house overlooking the Lyon near Fortingall I found a dead goldcrest. I have seen this species many times but this is the only time I have handled such an emerald beauty.
GoldcrestWebI carefully spread the brilliant orange-yellow crest as the bird does  in anger or display, mourning the end of this rarely seen creature, and wondering why the rarest and lovliest commit suicide as this one had, by flying into windows. This bird, the smallest in Britain, is a Leaf Warbler. There are many species of this group worldwide but in Britain we have only two; the goldcrest and the  rarer firecrest. I saw the occasional firecrest in Warwickshire but never in Scotland. In Madeira, however, they were common and we saw them often flitting about in shrubbery by the lavadas but there goldcrests were lacking.
Goldcrests are tiny, only 9 centimetres overall. They are often seen hunting insects among the finer terminal branches of conifers where in the darkness of the tree their two pale wing stripes are conspicuous and highlighted by the brilliant green of their body plumage. But their glory is their crown, a median stripe of gold which they show when courting or when defying strangers. This crown is then raised so that it becomes more obvious. Their size and their habit of feeding high in conifers make them inconspicuous
They build exquisite nests suspended from a fine twig of conifer constructed of spider’s web and moss. A hanging basket of incredible construction making one wonder at its delicacy. Collectively they are called Regulus (or little king); the goldcrest has the specific name of regulus and the firecrest is ignicapillus. In America they have two other closely related species the ruby- and golden-crowned Kinglets which tend to be less elusive than our birds. All the family are very small with relatively large eyes and sharp pointed bills
This bird has many Scottish names including woodcock pilot because it is said to guide migrating woodcock on their way south. If this is so it may be a defensive behaviour because, like all small creatures it is vulnerable to cold and goldcrests migrate southwards to avoid the worst of the winters. Noticeably wrens, which do not migrate much, have been much reduced after the last two winters.
The accident to this goldcrest was unusual and upsetting; this was the only occasion that I have been privileged to hold this small but beautiful species.

Robin Hull


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