Departure lounge ramblings on music, places, climate change and stuff outdoors

How Goldcrests wear their flatcaps

Yesterday I saw a Goldcrest, Europe’s smallest bird. There are 600,000 breeding pairs in Britain and they are reasonably commonplace in the coniferous woods which they make home, but it is the first time I have spotted one in the Brecon Beacons. More to the point, they are stunningly attired- “a tiny bird with a big hairdo” according to the Wildlife Trusts – and so make a big impression, first with a flash of green on the wing and then the bright yellow mohican on the head (orange in the male).

I can’t claim any credit for the spot – Ms Markontour was startled by a tiny buzz of feathers zooming within a metre of her face and upon training binoculars on the bush where it ended up we were rewarded with a close-up of a female Goldcrest.

Goldcrests, or Golden Crested Wrens as they used to be called, are very active little things. Our 1947 edition of ‘Our Bird Book’ describes exactly the behaviour we saw yesterday:

“[The Golden Crested Wren] is a particularly busy person, hunting about the trees for insects and sometimes having to hang himself [sic] upside down like a tit-mouse to make a closer inspection of some branch or twig.”

We thought we were privileged in getting to follow our Goldcrest’s restless activity for a good five minutes or so, but it turns out that they are famously indifferent to human presence. Spotting a nest may be harder given their tiny size, but the description in Our Bird Book is an incentive to look out for one during a woodland walk:

“It is minute, a deep cup-shaped ball of the most delicate mosses and lichens, woven together with cobweb and slung like a hammock beneath a branch of Scots pine or fir tree”

I claimed at the start of this blog that the Goldcrest is Europe’s smallest bird. In fact they share that distinction with their cousin, the Firecrest, a bird that looks pretty similar in portrait, but artist Matt Sewell offers an interesting way to tell them apart (with apologies for the gendered language):

The Firecrest wears his bright flat cap in a youthful, stylish backwards fashion, whilst the Goldcrest keeps it classic and wears his forwards at all times, as all gentlemen should.”

I’ll remember that every time I put on my flatcap from now on! Today I think I’ll be a Goldcrest..

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