I have had two run-ins with Ruby-crowned Kinglets recently in Brooklyn Bridge Park. These birds are called kinglets because they are little kings, fearless creatures. They are the birds I’ve always gotten closest too; or, put another way, they are birds that have always gotten closest to me. Easily within hand’s reach. They have other concerns.
One was circling the little pond on Pier One on a chilly late afternoon.The crown, or crest, is also why they’re called kinglets. You often don’t see this since they can control its flaring. This bird had a thin line of scarlet running back along his head. It looked like a wound in the greenish gray of the plumage, cut into the brain. The bird was moving quickly, circling the pond, reed-to-reed, searching for food. December: invertebrate prey is rare. But there are egg masses and larvae in cocoons. It looked like this bird got three somethings in the several minutes I watched him. One sure sign was the wipe of the bill on both sides of a branch, cleaning the goo off. It took a lot of moving, though, to get that food.
The other sighting was more surpassing. This bird’s crest was vast, filling most of the top of his head. He was flying up against the very reflective metal of the Jane’s Carousel sign. Repeatedly. He was, in short, being territorial, trying to chase off another particularly persistent male Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Um, which was of course himself. I’ve heard of similar cases, but this was the first time I’ve seen this.
Now, testosterone in birds is usually a seasonal roller-coaster. Breeding season brings a surge of the stuff, which is associated with song ability and territory-staking. There shouldn’t be as much in winter (gonads, which are unneeded weight outside of the breeding season, physically shrink substantially in many migratory species). But this boy was hopped-up, flaring with ruby/scarlet/red. I generally take the Prime Directive in my interaction with nature, i.e. leaving it alone, but this seemed like a case where some interruption would be appropriate. This bird was spending a lot of energy bouncing off a slab of an unnatural mirror-like surface (I’ll bet the maker never thought of this possibility), energy better spent on food-searching on a very brisk day just a few minutes before sunset. The bird actually flew off before I waved it away, though.