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Goldcrest Population Booming

Amidst numerous stories of bird populations falling in Britain, it is always nice to hear some good news! Whilst the populations of many species remain in decline, the Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) has experienced a successful breeding season in 2017.

What does a goldcrest look like?

The Goldcrest is Europe’s smallest bird. Smaller than a wren, this bird is dull greyish-green with a pale belly and a black and yellow stripe on its head. This has an orange centre in male specimens. Goldcrests have thin beaks which are perfect for picking insects out from between pine needles. The birds make their way to the UK from Scandinavia in autumn and can be seen throughout the UK across the winter months.

Where will you see goldcrests?

The best places to see goldcrests are woodland areas but these birds will visit garden feeders. Their natural diet is insects and they love spiders but can also relish the fat balls in feeders. The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has announced that sightings of goldcrests are up 35% this year. The birds have enjoyed a good breeding season and have proved to be common visitors to suburban gardens. As they rely on insects for their food, harsh winters can lead to declines in the numbers of this species.

How do goldcrests survive in cold weather?

This species survives freezing winter nights by inducing a lower metabolic rate in order to reduce its energy consumption overnight. However, in freezing conditions, the energy economies of induced hypothermia can be insufficient to counter the negative effects of hypothermia. These include the energy required to raise body temperature back to normal at dawn.
The birds are able to maintain a more normal body temperatures by metabolising the fat laid down during the day. In addition, two or more birds may roost together for thermal insulation. It isn’t difficult to see how important food and shelter are to these tiny birds in periods of harsh weather.

How common are goldcrests in UK gardens?

In September, the Garden BirdWatch survey revealed that goldcrests were sighted in 5.3 per cent of gardens compared to the 20-year average of 3.5 per cent. Last February the little birds were seen in nearly one in 10 gardens compared to the average of just over 6 per cent. The birds are quite vocal and loud so you may hear them, even if you don’t see them!

Goldcrests are warblers and are often found in flocks which feed in conifers and yew trees where they create a significant hubbub of high-pitched twittering. It is interesting that these woodland birds are turning to gardens for food and shelter. Without the Garden BirdWatch survey, their behaviour may not have been noted and recognised.

It is always worth providing for smaller visitors like the goldcrest. Fat balls provide high energy food for tiny birds which may struggle to survive the coldest weather conditions.


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