Goldcrest

Regulus regulus

Last updated: September 12, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff

The goldcrest never starts moving and needs to consume for most of the day to survive. Therefore, in the colder months, it's best that eat 90% a day.

Goldcrest Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Passeriformes
Family
Regulidae
Genus
Regulus
Scientific Name
Regulus regulus

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Goldcrest Conservation Status


Goldcrest Facts

Prey
Insects
Name Of Young
Chicks
Group Behavior
  • Pair
Fun Fact
The goldcrest never starts moving and needs to consume for most of the day to survive. Therefore, in the colder months, it's best that eat 90% a day.
Estimated Population Size
98 to 165 million individuals
Biggest Threat
Freezing temperatures
Most Distinctive Feature
Yellow feathers under their crest
Wingspan
5.3 to 6.1 inches
Age Of Independence
1 year
Age Of Fledgling
19 days
Habitat
Conifers and mixed woodland
Diet
Insectivore
Lifestyle
  • Diurnal
Favorite Food
Insects
Common Name
Goldcrest
Location
Ireland, United Kingdom, Southern Siberia, Asia, Japan
Nesting Location
They build their nests relatively high in trees, up to 49 feet.

Goldcrest Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Olive
  • Dull Olive
  • Olive-Grey
Skin Type
Feathers
Lifespan
2 to 7 years
Weight
0.16 oz to 0.25 oz
Length
3.3 to 3.7 inches
Age of Sexual Maturity
12 months

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The goldcrest is a tiny bird and the smallest in the United Kingdom (UK), measuring 3.4 inches and only weighing 0.19 ounces, which is equivalent to a nickel. Goldcrests are dull-looking birds with a greyish-green plumage, and the only thing that stands out is the fiery orange stripe along their heads.

It’s hard to differentiate between males and females, but one significant difference is the crown on their heads, which is more prominent than females and used during their mating rituals. For example, the male goldcrest will bow its head and show off its colored crest to attract a mate.

Goldcrests occur in the UK throughout the year and are often sighted meandering in pine forests and gardens during winter.

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These birds enjoy the mountains and can survive in woodlands as high as 9,800 feet. These brave little birds can adapt to most situations and even inhabit specific areas in the Himalayas and Sea of Japan.

Three Incredible Goldcrest Facts!

  • Goldcrests have a lot of energy and work hard to build their nests in a few days up to three weeks.
  • They build their nests in three distinct parts. The outer part consists of lichens and mosses woven with spider webs that are securely fixed to the branches. The middle layer is made of moss, and the inner layer is lined with feathers and hair. They like to build nests in high trees, usually at heights of 49 feet.
  • The goldcrest never starts moving and needs to consume for most of the day to survive. Therefore, in the colder months, it’s best that eat 90% a day.

Where to Find the Goldcrest

Goldcrests can be found breeding throughout:

The northern populations will head south once it starts getting colder. Goldcrests are partly migratory, and species living in the north will migrate south for winter and can travel around 620 miles in seven days.

When mating season comes around, goldcrests prefer areas with conifers and mixed woodlands. This could include gardens and parks that contain conifers. However, they prefer deciduous trees and scrub outside of the mating season.

Because they’re so tiny, goldcrests are found closer to the ground because it’s warmer. But, during the warmer months, they prefer living higher up in the canopy.

Nests

They build their nests relatively high in trees, up to 49 feet. Their nests consist of 3 layers; the first is moss interwoven with spider webs, which is attached firmly to the tree branches. The middle consists of moss, and the inner layer is lined with feathers and air.

Goldcrest  Scientific Name

Their scientific name is Regulus regulus, but its striking yellow crest is the reason behind their common name, goldcrest. Regulus is derived from the Latin rex, meaning “knight” or “King.”

The goldcrest belongs to the Order Passeriformes, which consists of more than half of all bird species. Another name for these passerines is perching birds, and they are recognized by the arrangement of their toes, with three facing forward and one pointing back, facilitating perching.

Goldcrests are members of the Regulidae family, who were formerly classified with the Old World Warblers. Regulus is Latin for “king” or “prince,” which is a tribute to the adults’ colored crowns. Members of this family are spread across North America and Eurasia.

This tiny bird has several subspecies, all with very similar characteristics but differing in minute details like the shade of their plumage; they include:

  • R. r. regulus
  • R. r. himalayensis 
  • R. r. japonensis 
  • R. r. tristis 
  • R. r. coatsi 
  • R. r. yunnanensis 
  • R. r. hyrcanus
  • R. r. buturlini 
  • R. r. sikkimensis 

Size and Appearance

The goldcrest is tiny and claims the spot of the smallest bird in Europe. Measuring only 3.3 to 3.7 inches in length and weighing a meager 0.16 to 0.25 oz, with a wingspan of 5.3 to 6.1 inches.

The adult males have predominantly olive green upper parts with tinged green bellies. Their crowns are bright yellow, with black edges on either side. The black edges extend from the top of the crown to the base of the upper mandible.

When the yellow crown is erect, you can clearly see the orange hue of the feathers beneath it. They have creamy white areas below the eyes and chin, and a thin black line extends from either side of the bill bisects, forming a mustache.

They have dark brown or black narrow bills with dark brown eyes. In addition, their legs are also brown. The females are very similar, except for the orange feathers underneath the yellow crown.

Juveniles aren’t as colorful as the adults; they are much duller with white rings around their eyes. In addition, they are missing the bright yellow crown. While their subspecies are very similar in most aspects, they differ in patterns and coloration.

Goldcrest with a raised crest perched on a bare branch
A male goldcrest with its crest raised displaying its golden crest feathers

Catleesi/Shutterstock.com

Migration Pattern and Timing

Goldcrests migrate in winter and dominate the skies of Scandinavia, with flocks from abroad joining the natives for the significant migration to Britain. Generally, there are around 610,000 breeding pairs in the United Kingdom. However, this number significantly increases to about five million individuals during the colder months.

Despite the migration to get away from freezing temperatures, Goldcrests are still susceptible to the elements, and usually, only one-tenth of the population survives the cold weather.

It’s not only the cold climate that affects these tiny birds; the temperature affects the natural supply of insects, starving a considerable percentage of the goldcrest population. Although these declines seem terrible, goldcrests can easily replenish their numbers in a short amount of time.

Behavior, Reproduction, and Molting

Goldcrests are diurnal and very energetic; they can flap their wings extremely fast and enjoy hopping and jumping amongst sticks and branches in a jerking motion, which comes off in a reasonably fierce fashion, very similar to the wren.

When hidden from sight amongst the dense foliage, goldcrests are recognized by their call, which is a high-pitched “zi-zi-zi” noise. However, this noise is too high-pitched for most humans’ hearing range.

They use their pointed bill to poke into bark crevices and other tight spots to find prey and will often hang upside down. In addition, they love to scavage through leaves to gather insects.

They like to live in small groups and display erratic behavior during colder months, often joining the sedentary colonies of birds for their species.

They can fly long distances when migrating, but harsh weather can end their journey instantly. So during winter, goldcrests like to roost together at night in thick vegetation, huddled up together for warmth.

Diet

Although they are small, goldcrests are avid eaters and enjoy a wide variety in their diet. They have narrow pointed beaks, which work as an effective instrument to pick out insects from the bark of trees and dense pine needles.

They enjoy eating:

While insectivores, they eat seeds from the ground in winter. However, they will never eat bird seed mixes, peanuts, and sunflower hearts from feeders. Instead, they will search for food under leaves or from the upper surfaces of branches in coniferous habitats. Goldcrests are avid hunters and have a unique ability to catch insects while hovering.

Reproduction

Goldcrests mate for life and live in monogamous pairs. Males start their mating rituals in late April or early May and sing to mark their territory and attract a suitable mate. In addition, they raise their crowns, displaying the bright orange feathers beneath the crest.

A tall conifer can house several breeding pairs at different levels of the tree, meaning there are various territories in one tree. Males build their nests on the tree’s outer branches, and they mold them into the shape of a hammock.

The female generally lays 9 to 12 pale smooth eggs covered in several markings, and she lays one egg per day. She will incubate her eggs for around 16 days. During the first week, the female broods and cares for the chicks. Then, the male will bring her food while she incubates the eggs. Once they hatch, both parents will feed the chicks, who fledge at around 17 to 22 days.

Lifespan

On average, goldcrest only survives for one or two years in the wild. However, the longest lifespan on record in the wild is 7 years. Therefore, they could probably live even longer in captivity. Unfortunately, there is no data on record about their lifespans in captivity.

Predators, Threats, and Conservation Status

The goldcrest’s main predator is the Eurasian Sparrowhawk. However, they have many enemies, which include:

To avoid being caught, goldcrests exhibit erratic flight patterns and sharp movements.

They play hosts to mite species, louse and fleas.

Goldcrests have large populations in their range; their most significant threat is the weather. Severe winters kill thousands of goldcrests each year if they last too long. However, they are stealthy little birds, and their populations recover over several years.

These tiny birds are listed as Least Concern on IUCN’s Redlist, but their population has declined over the past few years. Unfortunately, no protective measures are in place to help them regain their numbers.

Population

Currently, the goldcrest population is estimated to be between 98 to 165 million individuals., with 20 million to 37,000,000 pairs in Europe alone. During migration seasons, the Royal Society for Protection of Birds reports a whopping 3 to 5 million birds in the United Kingdom alone.

Although these numbers seem ridiculously high, their populations have declined significantly over the years.

Communication

The males attract females with a signature courtship song, which is sung in a high-pitched tone during foraging. However, they generally communicate with a high-pitched “zee-zee-ee” call.

Males have multiple territorial songs as well. Many variations in the song of Micronesian populations have been beneficial to identifying subspecies and studying the distribution of goldcrests across the islands.

They play a massive role in their ecosystems as the seed dispersers; they also play a crucial role in population control of the insects they eat.

Differences between Goldcrests and Firecrests

The most significant difference between the goldcrest and firecrest is their plumage. Goldcrests are duller compared to the vibrant firecrest. In addition, firecrests have a prominent white patch above their eyes and a dominant black stripe through their eyes

Goldcrests’ heads have bright yellow stripes on top, while the firecrest has a vibrant orange line on their heads. But, the female stripe is duller and may appear yellow.

Goldcrests are the smallest between the two, only measuring 3.5 inches, while firecrests are a little bigger with an average length of 4 inches.

Goldcrests are olive-green in color and have white rings around their eyes. In addition, the edges of their wings are white.

You are more likely to see goldcrests in parks and gardens, whereas there is a very slim chance you will see a firecrest in a garden.

Firecrests have a black line across their eyes, and their wingtips are a lighter shade of white compared to the goldcrest. In addition, their olive coloring is more vibrant in color. In addition, the black line across their eyes gives them an intimidating look.

Similarities Between the Two Species

The goldcrest and firecrest are two birds that share much of the same habitat, mainly coniferous woodlands. They both have narrow pointy beaks that help them pick out small insects from in between bark and pine needles.

Both species will venture out of the dense vegetation to urban gardens in winter to find food. People often see the goldcrest hanging from branches trying to find food. However, the firecrest does the same, but sightings of them in gardens are much rarer.

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About the Author

I am a 33-year-old creative and professional writer from South Africa. Wildlife is one of my greatest passions and led me to become the writer I am today. I was very blessed to work with an abundance of wildlife (mainly big cats) and captured my unique experiences in writing. But I wanted to take it further, and I ventured into the freelancing world. Now, I get to spend my days writing about animals; what could be better?

Goldcrest FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

How rare is a goldcrest?

Currently, the goldcrest population is estimated to be between 98 to 165 million individuals.

How common is goldcrest in UK?

During migration seasons, the Royal Society for Protection of Birds reports a whopping 3 to 5 million birds in the United Kingdom alone.

What is Britain's smallest native bird?

The goldcrest is a tiny bird and the smallest in the UK, measuring 3.4 inches and only weighing 0.19 ounces, which is equivalent to a nickel.

Sources
  1. Animal Diversity, Available here: https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Regulus_regulus/#ecosystem_roles
  2. Avibirds, Available here: https://avibirds.com/goldcrest/
  3. IUCN Redlist, Available here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22734997/132183740
  4. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goldcrest
  5. Animalia, Available here: https://animalia.bio/goldcrest
  6. Bird Fact, Available here: https://birdfact.com/birds/goldcrest

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