Goldcrest

The Goldcrest is tiny. In fact, it is the tiniest bird in Britain with a punky attitude. The Goldcrest is hyperactive, always on the move, flitting restlessly from branch to branch on rounded wings showing off its Mohican yellow head stripe. A bird that is mainly seen in wooded areas. Being so small, they are hard to spot although they are relatively common. The best way to find one is to sit in a conifer wood and listen out for the ultra high pitched song. It starts by repeating a little phrase "silly-so" three or four times, while getting louder, and then finishing with a flourish. Each song last 3-4 seconds. Once located, they will let you get quite close as they are usually too busy stuffing their face with insects.

Goldcrests are smaller than a Wren, with a dumpy pale olive-green body, off white underparts, and a short tail. They have two small wing bars, a strong yellow crown stripe bordered with black, a small pointed bill, and large dark eyes. They mainly eat insects, caterpillars, and spiders, often hanging upside down or hovering in their search for food amongst the leaves.

Nesting begins in late April with both birds making the nest though dad does most of the work while being supervised by mum. The nest is a beautiful construction from moss woven together with spiders webs that hangs from the end of a thin branch. The 9 to 11 eggs hatch after 16 days and the young can fly 19 days later. The youngsters are fed by both parents and are fully independent within two weeks. There are usually two broods.

Most British Goldcrests are resident though some move south in winter. A few North European Goldcrests are even brave enough to fly across the North Sea to come here. An amazing journey for something so small. Goldcrests suffer in harsh winters being so tiny. They were badly affected in the early 1960s and their numbers did not fully recover until the mid-1970s. Currently, numbers are increasing and the Goldcrest is doing well with more than 600,000 pairs in Britain.

Their Latin name is 'regulus regulus', a small form of 'rex' meaning 'king'. They do look like a mini king with their yellow crown. An old English name for the Goldcrest is the 'woodcock pilot', since migrating Goldcrests preceded the arrival of Woodcocks by a couple of days. One legend has it that the Goldcrests would hitch a ride in the feathers of a larger bird, like an owl, and be carried like a king in his carriage. Suffolk fishermen called Goldcrests 'herring spink' because migrating birds often landed on the rigging of their herring boats out in the North Sea.

Brambling

The Brambling is like an exotic version of a Chaffinch and is sometimes called the 'northern Chaffinch' as they resemble each other in many ways. The Brambling is a winter visitor arriving in September from northern Europe, especially Scandinavia, and forming large flocks where there is lots of food. Another band of Norsemen that come here to nick our nuts. They have returned to their summer breeding grounds by the end of March. Only a handful have ever been known to stay.

The Brambling has a black head, orange breast and shoulders, white belly, and a white wing bar. They have a stubby Yellow seed cracking bill in winter. The female is less colourful than the male with orange shoulders and a grey nape patch. In flight, their white rump and white wing bar are clearly visible against their black forked tail. The flight call is a rising nasal "tchwee" and stands out from other finch calls. The Brambling's song is rarely heard here.

Bramblings feed on seeds, especially beech mast. They feed on the ground and may be seen on farmland, country parks and occasionally gardens. In summer they switch their diet to eating insects like beetles and caterpillars that are found in trees and bushes.

They build a cup-shaped untidy nest of moss and lichen against a tree trunk or in a fork. It is lined with hair and feathers. The 5 to 7 eggs hatch after 11 days and the young can fly 13 days later.

The winter population varies from 50,000 to 2 million and they can be found in most parts of Britain. Less than eight have been known to stay and breed here. The oldest ringed Brambling lived for 14 years. They have gone through a moderate population decline in the last 30 years, but the number of birds is still huge and is estimated to be between up to 66 million in Europe alone. When conditions are right, Bramblings can gather in staggering numbers. In January 2019, a mega flock of around five million Bramblings was recorded in Slovenia.

Their Latin name is 'fringilla montifringilla' where 'montifringilla' is derived from the Latin 'montis' for mountain and 'fringilla' for finch. The English name is probably derived from Common West Germanic 'brama' meaning bramble or a thorny bush. They have also been called the cock o' the north and, unsurprisingly, the mountain finch.