The Red-breasted Nuthatch mostly nests just north of the Chicago area, but spends the winter here, joining its larger White-breasted cousin. Both birds have slightly upturned bills, an adaptation for foraging upside down on tree trunks.
The locally-breeding White-breasted Nuthatch strikes a classic head-down pose:
The two kinglet species are also migrating through northern Illinois While the Ruby-crowned Kinglets will continue on south, the Golden-crowned species will stay for the winter.
The Ruby-crowned Kinglet is usually reluctant to flaunt the red feathers to which he owes his name. One might see a hundred of these active little birds before getting a glimpse of their ruby crown. I have seen it most often in the spring, in encounters between two singing males. At Nelson Lake/Dick Young Kane County Forest Preserve, I witnessed what appeared to be an aggressive exchange between two Ruby-crowns, during which one of the birds repeatedly, but very briefly, erected the red feathers atop its head.
The active little bird moved too fast for my camera, and this blurry photo was the only one to exhibit the ruby crown:
Last week, Mary Lou and I encountered an unusually large group of Golden-crowned Kinglets at Jones Meadow Park, a small oasis of woodlands and wetlands in suburban Kane County, Illinois. On the return leg of our walk, we stopped by a Cottonwood grove. Golden leaves littered the ground underneath the trees, which were now almost entirely bare.
Initially we found no birds among the stark branches, back-lit by a cloudy morning sky. Just as we were about to stop looking, the first contingent of kinglets appeared out of nowhere. They worked their way across the grove, streaming from left to right. In groups of 5 or 6, there may have been as many as two dozen birds, unaccompanied by the (usually) more common Ruby-crowned Kinglets. Since Cottonwoods shade out and self-prune their lower branches, most of the birds were up pretty high, but some flew into a few saplings near us along the trail, and they provided a great photo opportunity.
This kinglet seemed curious about my presence:
The birds were extremely active, so I caught them fluttering…
…taking big leaps…
Their proximity allowed me to capture other aspects of their typical behavior, such as hover-gleaning:
We also re-visited Fermilab in DuPage County in hopes of finding Harris’s and Nelson’s Sparrows, but instead saw lots of Field Sparrows:
We saw a hardy Eastern Phoebe, which will soon be forced to depart as its supply of flying insects is depleted by the cold:
Fox Sparrows were singing:
In perfect light, a Ring-billed Gull made a dramatic pass over Lake Law: