Winter is my favorite time of year to work in the woods. Here in the Pacific Northwest lowlands, it rarely snows and temperatures hover just below 50 degrees in the daytime. It’s usually overcast and damp-to-wet. You’d think the woods would be a bit on the depressing side, but I find them intimately composed. The constant dampness stimulates the growth of the most amazing moss gardens (which deserve a post of their own) and sounds are muffled.
One sound, however, infiltrates the muted woodland: the calls of flocks of Kinglets. In the Pacific Northwest the Golden-crowned Kinglet is a year-round resident, but his high, thin call is drowned out by stronger singers – except in winter. If you happen to be working or hiking in the woods and stop to take a breather, you might become conscious of a high-pitched tzee-tzee-tzee from somewhere in the trees around you. The sound diffuses quickly and is difficult to pintpoint, but if you look towards the sounds you might catch flickers of movement. Kinglets are diminutive and move ceaselessly, searching for tiny geometrid caterpillars (better known as inchworms).
Kinglets are such beautiful exemplars of winter survival that Bernd Heinrich devotes several chapters of his book Winter World to them. I highly recommend the book if you spend any amount of time outdoors in winter. Or just listen to the song recording below, and next time you’re out in the winter woods open your ears and listen for the call. You might find that the woods in winter are not empty and silent, after all.
“Kinglets are small, beautiful, and pure in their simplicity.”
—Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival By Bernd Heinrich