Now is a good time to see and hear Goldcrests, our smallest bird. They like to nest in conifers, especially Scots and Corsican Pines and mature Leylandii. In Coldham’s Lane, Roseford Road and Whytford Place, even isolated Leylandii trees hold their own self-sustaining populations. They rarely visit bird tables and seem to find all they need in their own small habitat. They often join flocks of tits, especially Long-tailed Tits and can be seen almost anywhere in early winter in deciduous trees and shrubs especially with dense ivy.
They are prolific nesters and can lay clutches of 12 eggs although 6-8 is more common; the females often lay a second clutch before the first brood has fledged. They are vulnerable to cold winters and numbers fluctuate, but the recent mild winters have boosted populations and forced birds to use other evergreens, such as ivy, as nesting habitats.
Goldcrest looking for insects on bracken fronds in St Andrew’s Church Cemetery, Chesterton, October 2015
Although it is our smallest bird it is an impressive migrant. In 2015 there was an exceptional influx of birds between October 11th and 20th along the East coast; at Holme Bird Observatory on the north Norfolk coast 829 were ringed in October 2015, compared to the previous October record of 338 in 2005. There was a large influx this year due to the prevailing easterly and north easterly winds that coincided with their exodus from northern Europe. Ringing recoveries show birds have come from Norway, Sweden, Poland, Latvia and Lithuania. Before ringing, ornithologists could not believe that such small birds could migrate and thought they hitched a ride in the feathers of larger migrants such as Woodcock which arrived at the same time. One migrant Goldcrest that landed on the sea wall at Cley in Norfolk was so hungry it attacked a Hawker dragonfly and was dragged along by it in mid-air before giving up and letting go.
Now is a good time to look for them across the City, because our resident population has been boosted by these newly arrived migrants that have filtered inland. The best way to locate them is by call, a very high pitched thin repetitive zeee zeee zeee. Be patient, they can be difficult to locate as they move constantly and nervously through the vegetation, gleaning small insects from the leaves and branches often hovering as they do so. They look “open faced” with a pale area around the eye and a yellow crown – the males have a crimson stripe in the yellow – and two prominent pale wing bars in their greenish plumage. If you see one with a bold white stripe over the eye it’s a Firecrest and that’s another story!
Bob Jarman (firstname.lastname@example.org)