Tuesday, January 23, 2018

All About Ruby and Golden Crowned Kinglets

Here is a recent post from the Union Bay Watch Blog published by Larry Hubbell, long-time local photographer and birder. 

Here also is an in-depth article about Larry and his work.

The Antidote
Golden-crowned Kinglets seldom pause during their fast-paced, flickering pursuit of food.

They easily defy the law of gravity, while momentarily hanging below branches or leaping up to snap an appetizer hiding overhead. Often, when their wings flash, I suspect it is less about lift and more about startling their prey. A moving creature is much easier to spot than one which is frozen in place.

Even when they find food it is so small and disappears so quickly that I seldom notice their success. When taking this photograph I completely overlooked this bird's tiny morsel of food. I wonder how many hundreds of lifeforms they catch in a day.

Their golden crowns may be their most noticeable attribute, but their most noticeable behavior is their inquisitive nature. They are always searching. They bounce around looking in every crevice and crack, as well as searching the underside of every branch.

Both the male and the female have golden crowns.

Only males frequently reveal just a hint of orange in the middle of their crown.

Far less often, e.g. when defending a territory or mate, the males make their opponents see 'red' by raising and revealing their hidden beauty. I suspect the bright color attracts female birds and repels the males. 

While reviewing these photos, I also noticed their golden yellow feet. 

It is amazing how our bodies and avian bodies are variations on a fairly similar pattern. The bones in our arms are similar to those in a bird's wings. The arrangement of our fingers is somewhat similar to their primary flight feathers and their alula is similar to our thumb. However, when it comes to their feet, and especially their legs, it is easy to misconstrue the similarities.

The point where a bird's lower leg attaches to their 'thigh' seems similar to our knee, except that it bends the wrong way

In fact, a bird's foot is most similar to our toes, their 'ankle' is similar to the joints at the ball of our foot. Their leg, or tarsus, is most similar to bones between the ball of our foot and our heel e.g. our tarsals and metatarsals. This means, what looks to us like a bird's knee, is actually most similar to our heel. 

Another interesting difference between humans and birds is that when a bird perches on a branch, the weight of their body, with the help of gravity and connecting ligaments, causes their toes to squeeze the branch. This means they do not usually have to use muscles to hold on to a branch. I believes this allows them to sleep or rest while expending minimal amounts of energy.

Thinking about their golden-yellow feet, started me wondering about the foot color of their cousins, the Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

Our local Ruby-crowned Kinglets have yellow feet in most of my photos. In this photo you can also see just a hint of the tiny red stripe which gives Ruby-crowned Kinglets their name. 

By the way, if you read my earlier post, Common Misperceptions, you would know that I find these two kinglet names wonderfully appropriate, because their names supply us with critical information which helps us to identify and distinguish the two species. 

Seattle Audubon's Birdweb.org (which focuses on Washington State) also mentions that Ruby-crowned Kinglets have yellow feet. 

Curiously, when I Google Ruby-crowned Kinglets I see mostly black or brownish feet in the photos, which appear from all across North America. This implies to me that yellow feet may be common in Washington but possibly not everywhere else. I wonder how this could be. 

Somewhere, I read that Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets on rare occasions may interbreed. Could some Golden-crowned Kinglet in the distant past have added golden feet into the genome of our local Ruby-crowned Kinglets?

Dennis Paulson supplied this photo which not only shows a Ruby-crowned Kinglet with black feet, it also displays the male bird's beautifully erect crown. Dennis suggested that perhaps the time of year is a factor in their foot color. Dennis noted that so far he has only seen dark feet on Ruby-crowned Kinglets, which he photographed during breeding season. Thank you, Dennis!

Another thought is maybe their diets impact the color of their feet. This seems like a long shot. However, in regard to feather color, scientists have discovered that the food which some birds eat, e.g. Northern Flickers and Cedar Waxwings, can make a difference. Click Here to read the story. 

The color of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet's feet may seem unimportant, especially when compared to the pressure and stress of modern life. However, if we want to live our lives surrounded by the wonders of nature, if we want to exist in harmony with the earth, if we want our children to have the opportunity to see the variety of creatures we see today, then at a minimum we must understand the life around us. Only through awareness and understanding will we learn to protect these innocent creatures from our human-centric progress.

If these goals seem a bit too lofty and distant, then you may want to focus on a more immediate benefit. It turns out that observing nature is a wonderful antidote to the stress and pain of modern life. It works for me. It also works for my friends, Dan Pedersen and Craig Johnson, whom I deeply respect. You may read their powerful and eloquent thoughts by Clicking Here

No comments: