I’m sure to a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, life is a serious matter. Find food, avoid predators, stay warm. Ruby-crowned Kinglets are among the smallest birds in our state, and yet they’re able to survive a Seattle winter that can vary from dull days of endless rain and temperatures in the 40s to cold snaps that drop us into the arctic zone.
In spring, the seriousness of life ramps up for the kinglets. That’s when they start to establish their pair bonds. Ruby-crowned Kinglets don’t breed down here. They like the high, dry reaches of the alpine areas or the far north. But they do begin to look for a mate here in the spring, and so the males fight each other.
That’s when, at least to us humans, the kinglets leave the realm of the serious behind and just get cute. Ruby-crowned Kinglets, you see, duel with each other by showing off their little ruby crests. Normally, the males keep their crests discreetly covered. Most of the time in the winter, you never see the crests of the Ruby-crowned Kinglets at all, to the point where you might wonder, “How the heck did the naming-powers-that-be come up with THAT name??!!”
But lately I have seen the answer for myself. I was down at East Point the other day when a bevy of kinglets showed up to duel. Each male found his own neutral corner of the glade, and then on some mysterious signal I never did catch, they came out fighting. They did this by uncovering the little ruby dots on the tops of their heads and pointing them at each other, like yarmulkes on fire.
“Ha, ha, take that!”
“You think that’s a ruby crown? That’s no crown. Take a look at this!”
Imagine fighting by showing off how colorful you are. Men (and in these modern times now, combat-ready women) would face off against each other, make threatening remarks, and then pull off their hats and show their pates.
“My red dot is bigger than your red dot.”
“You ain’t seen nothing yet. Take a look at what I’ve got!”
“Whoa, I’m not going up against a red dot as big as that.” The loser would just lower his little crest as he backed away.
And we think birds are the ones with the tiny brains.