Feisty Firecrests of the Forest

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The Firecrests (Regulus ignicapillus) is one of the most amazing little birds we have. Packed full of energy and living their lives at such an amazingly fast pace.

Firecrests breed in most of temperate Europe and in the western side of North Africa. Growing up in Scotland, we never saw them so far north and it was only when I was older and started travelling that I first saw them.

Such a small bird but it certainly gives you the Wow! factor. Our Goldcrests (Regulus regulus) do look similar but both species are quite subtly different in physical appearance, feeding and behaviour.

Firecrest (Regulus ignicapilla)
Male Firecrest (Regulus ignicapilla)

Both Firecrest and Goldcrest are related to Kinglets and do belong to this family. Quite a lot is know about Firecrests, their feeding habits, diet and breeding have been extensively studied. Like most animals we are interdependent on habitat, food source and specific environmental factors. Firecrests have evolved in a different way to Goldcrests and forage on the ground as well as in the trees. They have stouter bills than Goldcrests and are more adapted to foraging.

Firecrest (Regulus ignicapilla), Male, spring, The Bavarian Alps, Germany

They also have stouter bristles surrounding their bill-base. It’s been suggested that these have evolved to protect their eyes from what they are trying to capture. Goldcrests have different feet with a longer hind toe, just perfect for their zipping habit of moving vertically along branches while feeding. The soles of the feet of Goldcrests are quite specialised and have serrations for better grip in trees, particularly smooth pine needles. Firecrests have a shorter hind toe and smooth soles of their feet and are better adapted for the forest floor.

Firecrest (Regulus ignicapilla)

Only the female Firecrest builds the nest. The male does hang around though, offering encouragment and lots of compliments…and it’s the female that incubates the eggs! Firecrests have a clutch between 7-12 eggs, although there could be less in warmer countries like Spain. Parents feed their young with a fairly precise diet from day one. The first week chicks are fed a diet almost entirely of Springtails (Collembola). Just as a matter of interest, Springtails are in a group of their own and like Spiders aren’t insects.

Firecrest (Regulus ignicapilla)

These fascinating creatures are responsible for the control and dissemination of soil. In sheer numbers, they are reputed to be one of the most abundant of all macroscopic animals, with estimates of 100,000 individuals per cubic meter of topsoil, essentially everywhere on Earth. Look them up here. Anyway, getting back to the Firecrest chicks, from the fifth day onwards the parents feed them aphids and pieces of snail shells, which gives them accelerated bone growth. They are then fed on larger insects as they develop.

Firecrests lifespan is usually around two years but the speed that they move around would be equal to a human life of say 319 years… ; )

Visit my website to learn more about my activities as a guide in the Andalucia region of Spain.

Firecrest (Regulus ignicapilla)
Firecrest (Regulus ignicapilla)

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Marichal Claude

Superbe photos,merci.

pkscdri

Thank you so much Ken for making us meet nature’s little wonder Firecrest bird. Its very beautiful and amazing bird.

Piyush Bhatt

Firecrest….Oh my GOD what a lovely beauty ….u made my day dear

digambar gadgil
digambar gadgil

crest is wonderfuly firey

Stephen Daly

Thanks for your comment and glad you liked the male with his crest raised. It really is this bright and puffed up! Stephen

Ken Billington

Stephen, the Firecrest really is an attractive species. Although I’ve never seen one, I’ve often seen Goldcrest when staying on the south west coast of Ireland. The Firecrest is now on my list of birds to photograph.

Stephen Daly

Thanks Ken. It’s an incredibly attractive species and often difficult to get one to! Let me know when you’re coming down to Andalucia and I’ll show you some good sites…