Firecrest (Regulus ignicapilla)



Firecrest © Sue & Andy Tranter

Firecrest © Sue & Andy Tranter

Firecrests have been found regularly in Cheshire and Wirral since their mass influx of about 23 birds in 1974/ 75, still the highest total for the recording area and described by the County Recorder at the time as ‘an extraordinary picture of a bird that was hardly known in the county a few years ago’. The species is much sought-after but is elusive and may well be under-recorded because one of their favourite habitats, rhododendron scrub under mature trees, is not often visited by birdwatchers. 31 of the 48 Firecrests ringed in the county by members of Merseyside Ringing Group up to 2003/ 04 were in this habitat, more than half of them in the last hour of the day, probably preparing to roost in the shrubs (Norman & Ormond 2003).

The first year of this Atlas stimulated widespread recording, and the total of twelve birds in 2004/ 05 was the county’s third highest winter figure of birds seen in the field (20 in 1974/ 75; 16 in 1993/ 94; 12 also in 1997/ 98). On the other hand, just three birds were found in 2005/ 06 and two in 2006/ 07. Most of the birds were on their own but up to three were seen in Rivacre Country Park (SJ37Y/ Z) and two at Dibbinsdale (SJ38B).

Elsewhere in Britain, Firecrests are said to favour woodland adjacent to rivers or other water (Migration Atlas) but there is no evidence for this preference in Cheshire and Wirral. Birds in seven tetrads were recorded as using woodland (five broadleaved and two mixed), with two in scrub, four in hedgerows and two in suburban gardens. This accords with previous records in the county where almost all Firecrests were in willow-dominated scrub or mature trees (either broadleaved or coniferous) with rhododendron understorey. The data from ringed birds suggested, although with not enough birds to be statistically robust, that the larger males were more likely to use the scrubby areas, presumably more open and somewhat colder than the sheltered woodland (Norman & Ormond 2003). None of the birds seen during this Atlas was sexed in the field, probably wisely, because females can show some of the golden-orange colour in their crown, although never as much as males, and Firecrests seldom cease their relentless search for insects long enough to allow observers perfect views.

According to the records of the Rare Breeding Birds Panel, up to 250 pairs of Firecrests now breed in Britain, almost all in southern England (Holling et al 2007) but most of the wintering birds are likely to be immigrants from the closer parts of continental Europe (Migration Atlas).

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