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 Firecrest - Fact File

female (left) male

Regulus ignicapillus
Small numbers breed in southern England. Also found in small numbers as a winter visitor and passage migrant.
Less restricted to conifers than Goldcrest. Breeds in deciduous woods and gardens and in winter also in scrub and bracken.

Strong head pattern (which gives it a rather fierce look) separates it from otherwise similar Goldcrest. Sexes similar but female lacks orange tone in crown stripe.

9cm (3.5")


Those boon migratory companions, the firecrest and the black redstart, provided considerable entertainment to local birders in 1994. Approaching 20 observations of tiny firecrests were reported including no less than eight birds in Holkham Neals, together with a further five at Holme.

Referring to my diaries, I find that I enjoyed close-up views of my very first firecrest at Waxham. The minute traveller, actively feeding in a belt of stunted oaks and sycamores just inland of the dunes, was quite indifferent to the bird-watching audience.

Compared with the far more familiar goldcrest, this firecrest displayed considerably more striking plumage characteristics. Most noticeable was the striking white eye-stripe contrasting with a bold black edge to the fiery orange crest. The black-white, black-white, double eye stripe effect was a conspicuous feature on so small a bird.

The upper parts were greenish-yellow, much fresher and more immaculate than in a goldcrest which appears almost dull by comparison. On each side of the neck was a boldly marked coppery-bronze tinge.

For many years, firecrests appeared here as spring and autumn passage migrants. In addition, odd ones were found in winter. But on the Continent firecrests have been colonising new areas and in 1962 the species was discovered breeding in southern England.

The number nesting here remains small. In fact it varies greatly from year to year. For example an astonishing total of 46 singing male firecrests were found at a single locality in Buckinghamshire. Yet the very next year the population there had crashed to just 11 songsters.

First confirmation of firecrests in Suffolk took place in 1979 when a colony of six pairs was discovered. Next year nesting was confirmed in Essex.

In Norfolk in 1982 at Sheringham Hall a male firecrest apparently paired to a female goldcrest was frequently watched carrying nesting material to the same spot at the top of an isolated larch either accompanied by the male or whilst he sang from a nearby tree. But neither bird could be located a week later.

Two years later came success when firecrests reared young in a Norwich cemetery. A gap of six years followed until 1990 when another pair bred at Wolferton. Locally, firecrest spring passage usually extends from late March until mid-May, the migrants often passing through in distinct waves

.By Michael J Seago

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Copyright Information

  • Article: © Eastern Counties Newspapers Group
  • Illustrations by Dave Nurney from - The Pocket Guide to the Birds Of Britain and North-West Europe By Chris Kightley and Steve Madge © Pica Press and reproduced with kind permission.
  • Other material: © Birds Of Britain