Goldcrest encounter

Posted: Friday 21 December 2012
by Kate Bradbury

Cars and buses roared past, a squirrel buried its head in a packet of crisps, and I stood in a thicket of hawthorn and dog rose thinking “Is that… a goldcrest?”

A goldcrest on a pine tree branch

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Europe’s smallest bird. I would have expected such an occasion to take place in a pine forest or a large rural garden, but this chance encounter occurred on a scrubby piece of park just behind the Hackney Road, in Bethnal Green. Cars, buses and lorries roared past, a city squirrel buried its head in an empty packet of crisps, and I stood in a tiny thicket of hawthorn and dog rose thinking “Is that… a goldcrest?”

It reminded me of the recent news that Britain’s rarest bumblebee had been found at a London sewage works. It’s all very lovely, but I can’t help feeling that the setting of such events should be a little more romantic. 

The goldcrest was one of several moving through the shrubbery one Thursday rush-hour morning. It was with a big gang of long-tailed tits that darted one by one between the shrubs with a little “deet deet deet”. I love long-tailed tits, and stood watching them for a while, when these tiny mouse-sized birds appeared. Their behaviour, shape and size were so different to the tits, and they flew with a gliding motion. Visibly smaller than wrens, with a yellow or orange crest, they were instantly recognisable. It was a beautiful moment.

Once home and with access to the internet, I learned that seeing goldcrests with long-tailed tits in a Hackney park is not as unusual as it might seem. While British residents are usually found in pine forests, flocks from Poland, Scandinavia and Russia migrate here in autumn and gather with tits in roving groups searching for food. 

Like long-tailed tits, goldcrests eat insects and spiders, but specialise in tiny morsels such as moth eggs. Their beaks are designed to pick out insects from between pine needles. In really cold winters they will occasionally come to garden feeders, so keep an eye out for these beautiful, gliding birds. They might be closer than you think.

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oldchippy 21/12/2012 at 15:57

Hi Kate I saw a Goldcrest last winter on the golf course when walking my Dogs,It was in a gorse bush very distinctive yellow markings on there heads,I hope you have a Happy Christmas and New Year.


Enelra 21/12/2012 at 16:15

One flew into my window with a loud bang and then sat in the window box for half an hour before flying off. I had time to take photos and identify it.

Enelra 21/12/2012 at 16:20

Looks a bit dazed!

Milo de Paor 21/12/2012 at 16:33

We get them in our garden in Ireland too, which is urban-ish. Lovely, lovely little birds.

flowering rose 21/12/2012 at 17:45

When i was out riding on the Mendips we came across a flock of either goldcrest or goldfinches,they were making alot twittering like finches flyling in a group in among the pine trees ,I have never seen them like that before,a lovely sight.

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