27 January 2018 | Posted in Charlotte Owen , Birds
Rob Baldwin

By Charlotte Owen

WildCall Officer

Winter is the most challenging season for our garden birds. When the weather is at its worst, each 24-hour period becomes a battle for survival - cramming in as many calories as possible during the daylight hours to build up the vital fat reserves required to see them through the long, cold nights.

The smaller the bird, the greater the challenge and the tiny goldcrest is the smallest of them all – so small that it has been referred to as a feathered atom. Weighing in at just six grams, which is about the same as a ten pence coin, a goldcrest can lose up to 20% of its bodyweight overnight just keeping warm, even huddled together in a communal roost - and when you don’t have much to lose in the first place, every calorie counts. It’s remarkable that these diminutive creatures can survive the cold at all but even more impressive to think that our resident birds are joined each winter by distant relatives from as far afield as Russia, making an epic flight of thousands of miles and crossing the North Sea to boot. This was a feat so unbelievable that early observers believed goldcrests must hitch a ride among the feathers of migrating woodcock, which arrived here at about the same time.

One advantage of being so small is reaching the places that bigger birds can’t, and delicate goldcrests will often perch right at the tips of the flimsiest branches in their constant quest for food. Deep furrows on the soles of their feet help them grip onto individual pine needles as they flit through the treetops, seeking out springtails and spiders as well as overwintering cocoons and caterpillars. Such miniature morsels are often overlooked by their competitors but make a perfect meal for such a tiny bird, as long as they can find plenty of them. Goldcrests will often visit gardens but tend to ignore seed feeders, occasionally pecking at a fat ball if times are really tough. The bird table can be a life-saver for a range of other small birds though and will be hive of activity on a frosty morning.


  • Janet Cooper:

    31 Jan 2018 12:02:39

    I saw a goldcrest in my garden for the first time earlier this month. I have seen one in the Falmer area a couple of times before.

  • Sandra Thompson:

    31 Jan 2018 15:45:39

    Having taken part in the garden bird watch with the grandchildren last weekend we were delighted when we saw the return of the Gold crests that seem to spend a lot of time in the 30 ft Norman Spruce at the bottom of the garden a lot of the year, they obviously are happy as they or their offspring return every year.

  • Alison:

    31 Jan 2018 16:05:15

    I saw what I am almost certain was a juvenile Goldcrest in my garden last weekend in Worthing. The RSPB big bird watch tells me that it wasn’t possible but I understand that there are many in the large pine trees in Grand Avenue so I think that this baby was enjoying my baby Christmas trees all to itself – it may have got blown here from Grand Avenue by the prevailing winds or from the park behind my house.

  • Philippa Hopkins:

    31 Jan 2018 17:38:36

    I have lived in the centre of a village near East Grinstead for 35 years and most years get visited by at least one Goldcrest. If I am in the garden I know they are around from their very high pitched squeaky call and often watch them from the comfort of my conservatory pottering around my raised pond looking for morsels of food on shrubs. They are the most adorable little birds.

  • Rhona:

    01 Feb 2018 02:16:08

    I too was delighted to spot a tiny gold crest popping in and out of my pots on the patio from my window. A separate spot during January was at theRspb at Wiggonholt in a thicket if brambles – such a treat on a winter walk!

  • Sharon Ottley:

    01 Feb 2018 16:19:22

    Saw my first goldcrests at Center Parcs in Suffolk a couple of years ago but was thrilled to see a couple in the fir trees at the bottom of my garden in Crawley last year. Absolutely delightful little birds.

  • Pippa Taylor:

    04 Feb 2018 19:26:35

    I have a goldcrest roosting in our clematis armandii against our wall. I was really surprised to see it clearly two evenings ago. It has been there quite a while. I’d like to leave some food around for it in this cold weather. Any ideas?

  • 06 Feb 2018 11:36:20

    Yes I saw a goldcrest on a buddleia in Hanover in central Brighton the other day, along with a couple of blue-tits – they seemed to be in a small mixed flock. I’ve lived here 10 years and never seen a goldcrest

  • Emma:

    08 Feb 2018 20:57:12

    Goldcrest seen at Hadlow Down School yesterday. Such a beautiful sight and great to be able to point out this tiny spirited bird with the yellow crest to the children. As a coincidence, we also saw a woodcock sitting in a snow-covered field in Rotherfield and later appeared a very healthy looking fox.

  • Vivienne Blandford:

    21 Mar 2019 13:54:00

    Saw a goldcrest in the garden in Buxted for the first time (21/03/2109). It was jumping up and down between a garden seat and box bush just outside the kitchen windows and got a reasonable video of its behaviour

  • Eloise OWENS:

    01 Apr 2019 17:42:00

    Just seen a Gold crest for the first time in my garden ! Mannings Heath

Leave a comment