The Goldcrest is smaller than the Wren and is Europe's smallest bird.
The general appearance of a Goldcrest is that of a dull olive-green bird with pale whitish underparts and a conspicuous gold stripe on its crown. On closer inspection, there are two whitish wing bars and a dark mark on the wings. The black-bordered crest stripe is orange in the male and yellow in the female. The dark eye is easily seen against its whitish face. The thin bill is black and the legs are brown.
Juveniles are similar to the adults but lack the head markings.
The Firecrest (R. ignicapillus) is the same size as the Goldcrest, but more brightly coloured: starkly contrasting white supercilium above black eyestripe, yellow-orange stripe on crown which is bordered by black stripes. Upperparts are lime-green, and shoulders are bronze coloured. The Firecrest has grey ear coverts making the eye indistinct. Usually feeds at the ends of branches, fluttering almost hummingbird-like.
The main problem in identifying the Goldcrest is to first see it, as it is usually scurrying around tree trunks and branches, rarely keeping still. When there is a group of them, their very high pitched calls to one another can help find them.
|8-9 cm (3-3½")
|14-15 cm (6")
|5-7 g (¼oz)
Their song is a quiet, high pitched twittering: "tweedly tweedly tweedly twiddleedidee". The call is a quiet "zi" or "zi-zi-zi", which is easily confused with Treecreeper and some tits.
The call and song of the Firecrest is very similar to that of the Goldcrest - the song is louder and without a flourish at the end.
Their diet is mainly insects and spiders, which they usually find among the leaves and branches, and sometimes by hovering underneath the leaves. Their favoured trees are spruce, pine and fir.
They will visit gardens, but it is only in extremely cold winters that they will venture to bird tables for crumbs of bread and cheese.
The nest is suspended near the end of a conifer branch and is made by the female. The nest is made from moss, lichens and spiders' webs, and lined with feathers. They will also nest among ivy.
The female Goldcrest lays and incubates eggs that are smooth, non-glossy and white or pale buff with brownish speckles. The eggs are about 14 mm by 11 mm. Both parents feed the young after they have hatched.
The British resident birds are joined by immigrants from Scandinavia, Poland and Russia in the winter. Occasionally, huge numbers arrive on the east coast, such as in autumn 2005 when bushes, such as gorse and buckthorn, were "dripping with Goldcrests".
The Goldcrest was a species of conservation concern for many years owing to its population being adversely affected by the cold winters in the early 1960s, but their numbers have recovered substantially and continue to do so.