Ruby-crowned Kinglets Galore

I’ve never before seen anywhere near so many Ruby-crowned Kinglets in the same area at the same time.

Yesterday morning as I made the long drive in the dark to my bird photography destination in northern Utah I was far from optimistic about finding any birds. The last several times I’ve been to the area I was pretty much bird-skunked and I expected similar results on this trip. But yesterday was opening day for the duck hunt and I desperately wanted to avoid the bird refuges and similar areas so I went far north anyway and I’m damned glad I did.

We found one spot and one spot only with birds and it was loaded with migrants. There were Yellow-rumped Warblers, Orange-crowned Warblers, Nashville Warblers, Pine Siskins, juvenile and adult White-crowned Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Goldfinches and probably a few others that I’ve forgotten or didn’t see. Even an adult Red-tailed Hawk and a Northern Harrier made an appearance.

But the most common and consistent species in the area was Ruby-crowned Kinglets. At times they seemed to be everywhere and I’m sure I didn’t see most of them because they were buried so deeply in the thickets. More than once I had to choose between three or four kinglets to aim my lens at.

I was as happy as a pig in… well, you know.

But just because there were many of them doesn’t mean the photography was easy – it never is with kinglets (for reasons I’ve explained in a previous post).



1/8000, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

One of several bushes these birds were scurrying around in was a scrub oak. I really like their fall colors and can’t help admiring those three little immature acorns at center right (at least I think that’s what they are).

This particular bird apparently didn’t know it was a flitty kinglet because it actually stayed on this perch long enough for me to take 29 photos (almost unheard of for a kinglet). I’ve learned from experience that kinglets are so fast that it’s impossible for human reflexes to respond quickly enough to keep them in frame after they start to take off so I just fired a long burst and hoped it would take off and that everything else would come together for an interesting takeoff shot.

This time my strategy paid off.



1/8000, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Personally I adore this shot taken just after lift-off. It isn’t perfect but without question it’s close enough for me. I got a catch light, the little speed demon is sharp, I have a clean background, there’s nice light on nearly all of the bird that we can see, I like the setting and I love the wing and leg positions.

But for my tastes it’s my incredibly fast shutter speed that put the icing on the cake. I know from experience that 1/3200 sec usually isn’t even close to fast enough to freeze the wings of this tiny species at takeoff and 1/5000 sometimes succeeds and sometimes doesn’t. 1/8000 was plenty of SS to get that right wing as sharp as it could be and still have enough depth of field for the rest of the bird. Many of the oak leaves in the foreground are soft but for this image I can live with that without a second thought or any misgivings.

Dang it was nice to have some birds for a change!





45 comments to Ruby-crowned Kinglets Galore

  • Mikal Deese

    Man, an in-flight shot of a Kinglet, so sharp that you can see the sheen on the primaries????? Yousa!

  • Joanne OBrien

    Awesome photos of these incredibly fast birds! I am especially impressed by the 2nd one – such a nice moment. And yesterday’s post of the Ferruginous Hawk is wonderful! That photo is so much more than a bird on a stick. You have managed to take a portrait that captures the bird’s mood and dignity. And what gorgeous light. Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Marty K

    Such cool shots! We get these guys around the shelter sometimes. Thanks so much for the photos and commentary today and yesterday. It’s been a really tough weekend for me and coming here has definitely helped.

  • Marilyn Ghere

    Your love of creatures, especially birds, combined with your photographic and artistic skills is truly something special.

  • Debbie

    I am so glad you had a great day! Your photos are beautiful as usual. Why are they called Ruby-crowned when I see no red?

    • Debbie, the males actually have a ruby crown but it’s usually hidden by other feathers up there. They only display it on certain occasions. I’ll be posting photos sometime this week where you can see part of the ruby crown.

  • Patty Chadwick

    I’ve noticed that so many birds have white around the eyes, even hummingbirds and bluebirds have them…And I’ve wondered why…Do they they throw more light into the eye? The big cats have them, too..many of them have a light streak under the eye…

  • Oh. How absolutely enchanting. Wonderful – for you and for us.

  • Alice Beckcom

    Read your previous post and can’t believe that these little birds weigh 1/4 oz. Your photo today of the bird taking off in flight was better than the photo in the last post, but no complaints. They are both great shots.

    Thanks for sharing these with us, Ron.

  • Charlotte Norton

    Awesome shots Ron!


  • Laura Culley

    I’m pondering the idea that 1/8000 of a second is necessary to freeze the wings of these frenetic little sweeties! Seriously, that’s an OH WOW, WOW, WOW and another couple of WOWs! What a near microscopic slice of time. The sheer magic of birds (and other critters) is really beyond my comprehension. Hummers do that to me, too. Oh heck, who am I kidding? There’s such outrageous magic in The Great Out There! What a splendid spinning rock to spend our lives! It’s a shame we don’t value and treasure it.
    Humans really aren’t the special species we think we are (in my opinion). The more I learn about birds and other critters, the more I see just how inadequate we are in the overall scheme of things. Mariah ‘splained this to me about 23 years ago when I looked at myself through HER eyes. Despite the lack of any empirical evidence, we think we’re pretty special. But if we were to look at things objectively using critical thinking, humans are slow, we’re stuck on the ground, we don’t have feathers or fur to keep us warm, we’re (comparatively) blind as a bat and what are these sorry excuses for talons/bird feet? Really? How DO we get through the day! It’s a mystery to Mariah, Jack and Skye. They just don’t get it…and yet, I show up with food regularly. It boggles their minds 😉

    • Ha, an interesting (and amusing) perspective, Laura. Thanks for providing it.

    • Absolutely no arguments from me about how ‘special’ and particularly how ‘superior’ we are Laura. Not, not, and not is my answer. And I continue to marvel at the other species who share this world with us. And wish that more of us would expend the precious time, energy and money into keeping it safe.

      • Laura Culley

        Oh just spend some time learning from other species. This “we’re so special” idea blocks us from even CONSIDER that other species have knowledge to teach us. I’m so privileged that the critters who have shared their lives with me arrived and that I had the sense to listen! Mariah has been a patient teacher–most of the time, and she’s shown me so MUCH more about life and other cultures. I’m so very thankful!

  • Patty Chadwick

    These little birds are so darned cute I can barely stand looking at them…just want tomsquuuueeeeze them!!! Both images are wonderful…love the red mound in the first and the fanned wing in the second can’t be beat…the compostion and color in both are super…nice, nice, nice!!!

  • That last shot is really great. There seems to be such fierceness in this little bird.

  • Pam Skaar

    I think those 3 branches on the oak tree are next year’s buds. Looks like bud scale to me rather than small acorns.

  • Susan Stone

    Love both of these shots. They prompt me to say yet again that I am very impressed with the way you seem to capture the personality of the birds you shoot, in ways nobody else does. About your “oak tree”. I don’t think it is a scrub oak, for two reasons: 1) those three things are definitely not acorns (they look more like cones); and 2) scrub oaks are not deciduous and don’t turn color in autumn. At least in my experience. Unfortunately I am not familiar with what grows in that area and can’t see well enough to figure out what the tree/bush is.

    • I appreciate your comment about the personality in my shots, Susan. Thanks.

      I don’t know about your scrub oaks but ours are deciduous and their leaves turn red in late fall (our lower mountainsides are covered in oak red right now) and fall off the tree a few weeks later. There are about a half dozen varieties of oak folks call scrub oak. Ours is Gambel’s Oak.

      From Wikipedia: “Quercus gambelii, with the common name Gambel oak, is a deciduous small tree or large shrub that is widespread in the foothills and lower mountain elevations of western North America. It is also regionally called scrub oak, oak brush, and white oak.”

  • Judy Gusick

    Gorgeous! They and others do tend to be a “spray and pray” thing. 🙂 Glad you missed the hunters and had a VERY productive morning. We had a couple of hail storms yesterday – what time of year is it?

  • Elmer Deloso

    Thanks for the SS tip, will give this a try, but probably will not be anywhere as beautiful as these.

  • Ann

    Ohhhhhhh, those feet! I really like the “flare” of the tail too. These are two great photos of a bird that rarely sits still.

  • Diane Bricmont

    Spectacular, Ron! Simply spectacular! I would have been thrilled with the first photo, but the second one is pure joy. What a wonderful way to start the day!

  • Dick Harlow

    These are some great shots and I agree especially the second one. Well we live and learn, at least I hope I can still learn! 1/5000 Oh boy I didn’t have a clue I needed to boost my speed up that far. Of course, I haven’t run into an irruption of Kinglets as you have, but I’m putting that nugget of information in my kit bag to be dialed in when appropriate. Many thanks Ron, much appreciated.

    • “I didn’t have a clue I needed to boost my speed up that far”

      It’s only necessary if you want to freeze the wings, Dick. Some folks like wing motion blur because of the motion in implies. I just prefer them sharp. Thank you.