Kinglets – Goldcrests & Firecrests

If you read Tomorrow’s February edition, you might have noticed that it featured an article about the great bustard – an enormous flying bird found in the Alentejo plains. This month, we look to the opposite side of the size spectrum and focus on the smallest birds found in Portugal: the goldcrest (Regulus regulus) and the firecrest (Regulus ignicapilla). 

The two species are closely related and of very similar size, weight, appearance and behaviour. The Latin names translate to “king/ruler“ or “little king” and “fire-capped king” respectively. Despite their bold names, these are very small animals. In fact, they are the smallest birds found in Europe. These tiny birds weigh around 6 grams, roughly the weight of a 20-cent coin. Inconspicuous animals, they often join up with flocks of other small birds, perhaps to seek safety in large numbers. 

This is a strategy used across the natural world. Being this small means that they are positioned very low on the food chain and are a possible meal for numerous predators such as hawks, snakes or squirrels. As such, these birds keep very active, flitting between trees, bushes and shrubs where they feed on moth eggs, spiders and small insects. The crests, present in both genders, will flare up during courtship or when excited and this is when their bright crown colours are more striking. 

In Portugal, both species are more frequently spotted in northern regions but have been found throughout the whole country in coniferous forests, woods, parks and gardens. 

The size and habits of these creatures make sightings very challenging for wildlife enthusiasts and photographers. Spotting these fantastic little feathery friends requires a sharp eye and a certain luck.


Goldcrest vs Firecrest

More plumpBODYMore slender
Pale green, light greyCOLOURDarker, olive green
Black “pinhead” EYESBlack eyestripe & white brow      
Yellow Crest Yellow/orange
6 gramsWeight5–8 grams
14 cmWingspan14 cm
2 yearsLifespan2 Years
More abundant FrequencyRarer 

Fun fact

Worldwide, the record for the smallest bird goes to the bee-hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae), native to Cuba. This minuscule passerine weighs as much as a paper clip, around 2 grams, and it’s often mistaken for a flying insect.


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