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Golden-crowned Kinglet
Regulus satrapa

The Golden-crowned Kinglet is the second smallest nesting bird in Tennessee; only the Ruby-throated Hummingbird is smaller. It is restricted to the mountains of East Tennessee during the breeding season, but is a common winter resident across the state. The breeding range of this tiny songbird extends across the boreal forest of Alaska and Canada, into the western United States, and Tennessee represents the southern limit of the range in the eastern states. During the winter most northern breeders migrate to the lower 48 states, but despite its small size the Golden-crowned Kinglet can withstand winter temperatures of -30° F.

Description: The Golden-crowned Kinglet has grayish-olive upperparts, whitish underparts, two white wing-bars, a broad white eyebrow stripe, and a yellow crown patch bordered by black. The male and female look the same except the male has an additional erectile patch of orange feathers within the yellow crown. He raises this patch in confrontations with other males. Kinglets are very active foragers, often hanging upside down, and they frequently flick their wings while foraging making kinglets easier to identify.
Length: 4"
Wingspan: 7"
Weight: 0.21 oz

Voice: The song is a series of rising high-pitched notes, followed by a musical chatter. The call notes are a series of usually 3 very high-pitched notes, tsee-tsee-tsee. The call, and occasionally the song, is given on the wintering grounds in Tennessee.

Similar Species:

Habitat: Breeds in spruce and fir forests, as well as some mixed coniferous-deciduous forests. During migration and in winter it can be found in a wide variety of habitats, including lowland deciduous woodlands.

Diet: Small insects and insect eggs.

Nesting and reproduction: The Golden-crowned Kinglet reaches the southern limit of its breeding range in the mountains of East Tennessee. It usually nests above 4,000 feet in spruce-fir forests, and occasionally in hemlocks.

Clutch Size: 8 to 9 eggs

Incubation: The female incubates the eggs, which hatch in about 15 days.

Fledging: Both parents tend the young, who leave the nest in about 17 days.

Nest: The female builds a deep, globular cup-nest of moss, lichens, fine grasses and pine needles in a conifer tree. Nest heights range from 6 to 50 feet above the ground.

Status in Tennessee: The Golden-crowned Kinglet is a locally common breeding bird in East Tennessee, and a common winter resident across the state. Migrants and wintering birds arrive in the fall starting in early October and depart by mid-April.

Dynamic map of Golden-crowned Kinglet eBird observations in Tennessee

Fun Facts:

  • The scientific name for the Golden-crowned Kinglet is Regulus satrapa. The Greek word satrapes means a king wearing a golden crown.
  • According to the web page of the Bird Banding Lab, a total of 188,202 Golden-crowned Kinglets were banded between 1955 and 2000. Of these, only 69 have been encountered at locations away from where they were banded (an encounter rate of 0.036%).
  • The female Golden-crowned Kinglet feeds her large brood of fledglings for only one day after they leave the nest. The male tends to the brood while she begins another nest. In spite of having eight or nine young to feed, the male manages to feed them and occasionally the incubating female by himself. Second clutches, however, have not been confirmed in Tennessee.
  • A single, tiny feather covers each of the Golden-crowned Kinglet's nostrils.
  • In very cold weather, tight lines of up to 4 or 5 Golden-crowned Kinglets have been found roosting on tree branches, presumably to help retain body heat.

Obsolete English Names: American Golden-crested Kinglet

Best places to see in Tennessee: Golden-crowned Kinglets breed at higher elevations on Roan Mountain and in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. During the winter, they can be found in woodlands across the state in mixed-species flocks with Ruby-crowned Kinglets, chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches.

For more information:


Ingold, J. L., and R. Galati. 1997. Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa). The Birds of North America, No. 301 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.

Nicholson, C. P. 1997. Atlas of Breeding Birds of Tennessee. Univ. of Tennessee Press, Knoxville.

Robinson J. C. 1990. An Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Tennessee. Univ. of Tennessee Press, Knoxville.

Sibley, D. A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. A. A. Knopf, New York, NY.