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Key Information

Scientific Name: Regulus ignicapillus

Bird Family: Kinglets and Firecrests

UK Breeding Birds: 550 territories

UK Conservation Status: Green

What does a firecrest look like?

The firecrest is one of the smallest birds in the United Kingdom, measuring around 9 to 10 cm in length and has a wingspan of 13 to 16 cm. It is slightly larger than the goldcrest, its close relative.

The upper parts of the firecrest are primarily a vibrant green, giving it a lively and colourful appearance. The most distinctive feature is the bird's crown, which is adorned with a crest of fiery orange/ yellow feathers. This bright crown contrasts sharply with the green plumage, making it easily recognisable. The face of the firecrest is characterised by a dark stripe that runs through the eye, creating a distinctive and contrasting facial pattern. The bright colouration is less prominent on the underparts compared to the vibrant green and fiery crown on the upperparts. The tail of the firecrest is usually dark and edged with paler feathers. It is relatively short compared to the bird's overall size. When observed in its natural habitat, the firecrest appears as a tiny, lively bird, flitting about the foliage with agile movements. The combination of its small size, vibrant green plumage, and unmistakable fiery crown makes the firecrest a captivating and visually stunning species.

What do firecrests eat?

Firecrests are insectivorous birds, meaning their diet primarily consists of insects and other invertebrates. They feed on a variety of small insects, including beetles, spiders, moths, caterpillars, and larvae. They are known for their ability to catch insects on the wing, displaying acrobatic flight movements as they navigate through the foliage.

Their insect-rich diet is well-suited to their energetic lifestyle and the high metabolic demands associated with their small size. Firecrests actively forage throughout the day, moving quickly through the vegetation to capture prey. This insect-focused diet is crucial during the breeding season when the birds need to meet the nutritional demands of egg-laying and feeding their chicks.

What to feed firecrests?

If you would like to have a go at attracting firecrests, the below selection of bird food has been known to successfully entice them into some gardens. 

Where do firecrests nest?

Firecrest birds do not use artificial nest boxes. Instead, they typically construct their nests in dense vegetation, particularly in coniferous and mixed woodlands. Firecrests are strongly associated with coniferous trees, such as pine, spruce, and fir. They often select the forks or branches of these trees to build their nests. The dense foliage provides both camouflage and shelter for the nest. 

When do firecrests nest?

The nesting season for Firecrests usually begins in April and extends into June. However, the exact timing may vary from year to year and across different regions within the UK. After finding a suitable mate, firecrests will start the nesting process by building small cup-shaped nests using materials like moss, lichens, and sometimes incorporating spider silk. These nests are often situated in the forks or branches of coniferous trees, providing a secure and concealed location.

How many eggs do firecrests lay?

A female firecrest's typical clutch size can be between 6 and 12 eggs. However, the exact number can vary, and factors such as the age and health of the female, environmental conditions, and food availability can influence the clutch size. The incubation is performed by the female alone, typically lasting about 14 days. After hatching, both parents continue to work together to feed and care for the chicks. The young firecrests fledge, or leave the nest, approximately 14 to 21 days after hatching.

What does a firecrest sound like?

The male firecrest is known for its high-pitched and repetitive song, which is often described as a series of high "see" or "tzee" notes. The song is a key aspect of their courtship and territorial communication.

Are firecrests rare?

The firecrest is generally not considered a species of conservation concern, with a comfortable spot on the green list for Conservation Status. However, their distribution is more localised compared to some other bird species. They are primarily found in certain regions, particularly in the southern and western parts of the UK. In these areas, if you are in the right habitat, such as coniferous or mixed woodlands, you have a better chance of encountering firecrests.

While not considered rare, firecrests may be less abundant and widespread than their close relative, the goldcrest. Goldcrests have 610,000 breeding territories, whereas the firecrests only have 550 breeding territories.

You'll have more of a chance of seeing firecrests in autumn and winter when the population increases as migrant firecrests arrive across the North Sea. At this time of year, they join flocks of other small birds and can often be found away from breeding sites, including in parks and gardens.

Do firecrests migrate?

Firecrests are known for their incredible migratory feats. Some individuals may undertake long-distance migrations, travelling from their breeding grounds in northern and central Europe to wintering areas in southern Europe and North Africa.