The loud outpourings of song from my Blackbirds, Blackcaps, Robins and Great Tits dominate my garden soundscape at the moment, but as I pass under the spruce tree, I often hear a very high-pitched and rather feeble little warble. 'Sicily sicily sicily silly-so', it goes.

It is the song of the King of the Birds, whose scientific name means just that - Regulus regulus. Little King, little king.

And here it is in its regal splendour, all 9cm from bill tip to tail end, and a mighty 6 grams in weight, barely a metre from me among the branches.

Its status as the monarch comes of course from the golden crown, neatly outlined in black.

The fact it is in the spruce is no accident. Despite this not being a native tree, it is the Goldcrest's preferred haunt, where the UK's smallest birds is superbly adapted for winkling out bugs and flies and beetles from between the spruce needles. They are also happy in Silver Fir and Douglar Fir, but much less likely to frequent Scots Pine.

It is, therefore, a bird that has really benefitted from the forestry plantations of spruce that can be found in many parts of the country. Mature Yews are another favourite haunt, and in my home village as a boy, the churchyard was the place to find them.

I'm hoping, with so much singing going on, that breeding in my garden is a strong possibility this year. If they do, I might be even more lucky and spot the nest. It is - along with the Magpie, Long-tailed Tit and Wren - an example of a domed contruction, a tiny ball of feathers and moss, suspended beneath the outer end of a branch, usually cocooned by dangling needles around it. The entrance is in the top, and inside the female may lay about ten eggs.

And having reared one brood on a diet of springtails and other tiny insects, the pair will go on to try and raise a second.

They need to try and pull off so many youngsters in one year because the mortality rate is very high. Predation isn't a big problem - it seems that even Sparrowhawks tend to bypass them as not worth the effort. No, it is our winters that really do them in, for this is a bird that must feed every hour during daylight to keep going. Indeed, the male won't sing from a songperch like so many songbirds but will just belt out his verses in the middle of foraging, just so he doesn't have to stop eating.

So, ears peeled right now whenever you pass by a large conifer and hope that your hearing range still extends up into the ultra-high register, and you too might pick out this little gem preparing for a very busy summer ahead!

Anonymous
  • Had the thrill of seeing one of these in my garden a couple of times in the last week, collecting moss off a stone wall for nesting. Several years since I last saw one in the neighbourhood so very exciting!