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Golden-crowned Kinglet

Regulus satrapa
Minnesota Seasonal Status:

A regular breeding resident, migrant, and winter visitant. The Golden-crowned Kinglet was uncommon during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA).

North American Breeding Distribution and Relative Abundance:

Found across Canada from Labrador to British Columbia, south along the Pacific Coast to California, and patchily distributed in the Rocky Mountains. Occurs in northern areas of the Upper Midwest and the northeastern United States, south in the Appalachian Mountains to northern Georgia. Highest densities are found along the Pacific coast from California to British Columbia (Figure 1).

Conservation Concern:
Conservation Status Score 8

Assigned a Continental Concern Score of 8/20 by Partners in Flight.

Life History

Short-distance migrant that winters throughout much of the United States, including within many of its breeding areas.


Small arthropods, gleaned from foliage, especially in coniferous trees.


Pensile cup nest suspended from fork in a conifer tree.

Golden-crowned Kinglet Golden-crowned Kinglet. Regulus satrapa
© David Brislance
See caption below Figure 1.

Breeding distribution and relative abundance of the Golden-crowned Kinglet in North America based on the federal Breeding Bird Survey, 2011–2015 (Sauer et al. 2017).

Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution*

Roberts (1932) described the Golden-crowned Kinglet as locally common in the evergreen forests as far south as northern Isanti County and west to Itasca State Park. He listed “definite” nesting in Aitkin (feeding young out of the nest), Cass (feeding young out of nest), Cook (nest, small young) Isanti (nest building), Itasca (feeding young), and St. Louis (building nest) Counties, as well as at Itasca State Park (family of old and young with young being fed) and at Mille Lacs (nest with young). He also noted that there were “numerous reliable reports” that it nests throughout the Canadian area of the state, presumably referring to the extreme northern regions close to the Canadian border.

Over 40 years later, Green and Janssen (1975) reported that the species occurred in northern regions, sparingly in the eastern north-central regions, and as far west as Tamarac and Agassiz National Wildlife Refuges. Breeding records occurred as far south as Mille Lacs and Ramsey Counties. They added confirmed nesting in Hubbard County and inferred nesting from Koochiching and Lake Counties. Several years later, Janssen (1987) outlined a more restricted distribution to northern Pine County and west to Clearwater and Roseau Counties; he acknowledged breeding observations from both Agassiz and Tamarac National Wildlife Refuges, and former breeding records as far south as Ramsey County. Hertzel and Janssen (1998) summarized confirmed nesting since 1970 in 5 counties: Aitkin, Beltrami, Clearwater, Lake, and St. Louis.

The Minnesota Biological Survey reported 350 breeding season locations during its surveys of Minnesota’s counties (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 2016). Locations of extensive breeding observations ranged from Itasca County to Cook County, south to northern Mille Lacs and Pine Counties, southwest to Morrison and Douglas Counties, west to Becker County, and northwest to eastern Marshall and Roseau Counties. These observations expanded the breeding range outlined by Janssen (1987) to the south, southwest, and western portions of Minnesota.

The MNBBA reported 981 records for the Golden-crowned Kinglet, which were almost exclusively within the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province, including a few probable nesting records from the Tallgrass Aspen Parklands Province (Figure 2). New confirmed nesting records were from Carlton, Crow Wing, Koochiching, and Pine Counties, and there were extensive records from both Lake and St. Louis Counties. Breeding records were recorded from 10.3% (489 blocks of 4,737) of the blocks surveyed in the state (Figure 3; Table 1). Probable nesting records were from Becker, Lake of the Woods, Marshall, and Roseau Counties; possible nesting was found in Todd County.

Whether there have been changes in the breeding distribution of the Golden-crowned Kinglet over the past 150 years in Minnesota is unclear. Roberts (1932) states little about the species’ breeding distribution south of northern Isanti County; Green and Janssen (1975) cite breeding observations and inferred nesting south to Ramsey County. Few breeding observations have been reported from areas south of Aitkin County, but the MNBBA found possible nesting from northern Mille Lacs County and a confirmed nesting from east-central Pine County (Figure 2).

The predicted probability map identified potentially suitable habitat south to Chisago County and in the northwest to Kittson County with patches in eastern Marshall County, Red Lake County, and the eastern portion of Becker and Otter Tail Counties (Figure 4).

Wisconsin’s Breeding Bird Atlas found confirmed nesting in La Crosse and Waukesha Counties (Cutright et al. 2006), both of which are much farther south than confirmed nesting observations in Minnesota. Swanson et al. (2012) reported range expansions in the eastern United States and southward extensions of its range in spruce plantations since the mid-1980s in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. Chartier et al. (2013) suggested that the current distribution of the Golden-crowned Kinglet in Michigan is likely similar to its distribution in the early 20th century. They stated that extensive logging in the early and mid-1900s may have reduced its range, but it has recently expanded with the maturation of second-growth coniferous forests. Nesting by the Golden-crowned Kinglet in other parts of Minnesota should be scrutinized, especially in early spring where spruce or coniferous forest patches exist. The species’ high-frequency song can be easily missed.

*Note that the definition of confirmed nesting of a species is different for Breeding Bird Atlas projects, including the definition used by the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas, compared with a more restrictive definition used by the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union. For details see the Data Methods Section.

See caption below Figure 2.

Breeding distribution of the Golden-crowned Kinglet in Minnesota based on the Breeding Bird Atlas (2009 – 2013).

Print Map
Pie chart showing summary statistics of records by breeding status category Figure 3.

Summary statistics of observations by breeding status category for the Golden-crowned Kinglet in Minnesota based on all blocks (each 5 km x 5 km) surveyed during the Breeding Bird Atlas (2009-2013).

Breeding statusBlocks (%)Priority Blocks (%)
Confirmed47 (1.0%)37 (1.6%)
Probable133 (2.8%)92 (3.9%)
Possible306 (6.5%)166 (7.1%)
Observed3 (0.1%)1 (0.0%)
Total489 (10.3%)296 (12.7%)
Table 1.

Summary statistics for the Golden-crowned Kinglet observations by breeding status category for all blocks and priority blocks (each 5 km x 5 km) surveyed during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (2009-2013).

See caption below Figure 4.

Predicted breeding distribution (pairs per 40 hectares) of the Golden-crowned Kinglet in Minnesota based on habitat, landscape context, and climate data gathered during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (2009-2013) using the General Linear Modeling method with an adjustment for detectability.

Breeding Habitat

Golden-crowned Kinglets primarily nest in remote boreal and old-growth or mature conifer forests. They are especially fond of spruce, fir, and pine but are also found in mixed coniferous-deciduous forests and more recently in spruce plantations (Swanson et al. 2012). Galati (1991), in his book dedicated to this species with data primarily gathered from Itasca State Park, listed a wide range of conifer habitats, including pure and mixed stands of balsam fir, white spruce, black spruce, tamarack, and both red and jack pines. Recent extensive coverage of the Agassiz Lowlands Subsection revealed high concentrations in both mature black spruce and white cedar cover types (Bednar et al. 2016; Figure 5). The Golden-crowned Kinglet and Ruby-crowned Kinglet occupied similar habitat types, but Golden-crowned Kinglets preferred more productive stands (Zlonis et al. 2017). Franzreb (1984) suggested that these species may segregate on smaller microhabitat scales where they overlap. Cumming and Diamond (2002) in Saskatchewan found Golden-crowned Kinglets more abundant in forest stands older than 140 years, while Ruby-crowned Kinglets were more abundant in younger age classes.

The MNBBA found the species highly associated with bogs and in upland coniferous forest habitat types (Figure 6). The habitat profiles identified by the National Forest Bird (NFB) Monitoring Program within the Chippewa and Superior National Forests indicated strongest preference for black spruce–tamarack forests, and moderate use of mature aspen-spruce-fir, mixed swamp conifers, and white pine forests (Niemi et al. 2016).

Swanson et al. (2012) reported that Golden-crowned Kinglets were not sensitive to landscape-scale effects. Models by Zlonis et al. (2017), however, suggested a moderate landscape-scale influence; the most important variable in their prediction model was the amount of evergreen forest within a 200-m radius of where the species was identified on point counts.

See caption below Figure 5.

Typical breeding habitat of the Golden-crowned Kinglet in Minnesota (© Gerald J. Niemi).

See caption below Figure 6.

Habitat profile for the Golden-crowned Kinglet based on habitats within 200 m of point counts where the species was present during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (2009-2013).

Population Abundance

Partners in Flight estimated a large population in North America of 130 million breeding adults (Rosenberg et al. 2016). In a previous analysis, Partners in Flight had estimated 500,000 breeding adults in Minnesota (Partners in Flight Science Committee 2013). In contrast, MNBBA estimates were over three times the Partners in Flight estimates, at 1.77 million breeding adults in Minnesota (95% confidence intervals ranged from 1.50 to 2.20 million). Among the differences in the data used by the MNBBA was the sampling of roadless areas, such as the Agassiz Lowlands Subsection, many of which have high populations of Golden-crowned Kinglets.

There are too few routes and detections to estimate a trend in Minnesota for the Golden-crowned Kinglet using the federal Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), but the trend for the Boreal Hardwood Transition region was stable from 1966 to 2015 (Figure 7). In contrast, the BBS trend throughout the United States was significantly decreasing at 2.55% per year, and survey-wide at 1.54% per year. Rosenberg et al. (2016) estimated an overall population decline in the United States and Canada of 25% from 1970 to 2014.

NFB Monitoring Program trends from 1995 to 2016 in the Chippewa and Superior National Forests were conflicting. The species was increasing significantly in the Superior National Forest, but declining almost significantly in the Chippewa National Forest (P = 0.08) (Figure 8). Regionally, including both national forests, the trend was insignificant, but both national forests show a decline in the species’ population since 2008.

Overall mean population density estimates indicated that Golden-crowned Kinglets were almost twice as common in the Superior National Forest, with 5.5 pairs per 40 ha, compared with 2.9 pairs per 40 ha in the Chippewa National Forest. Within mature lowland conifer habitats in the Chippewa and Superior National Forests, Golden-crowned Kinglets averaged 9.7 and 10.9 pairs per 40 ha, respectively.

See caption below. Figure 7.

Breeding population trend for the Golden-crowned Kinglet in the Boreal Hardwood Transition region for 1966–2015 based on the federal Breeding Bird Survey (Sauer et al. 2017).

See caption below. Figure 8.

Breeding population trends of the Golden-crowned Kinglet in the Chippewa and Superior National Forests and the combined regional trend, 1995–2016 (Bednar et al. 2016).


Partners in Flight’s (Rosenberg et al. 2016) evaluation of the Golden-crowned Kinglet resulted in a relatively low score of 8/20 due to its wide distribution and potentially expanding population in some areas where reforestation and maturation of large conifers are occurring. Its overall population was estimated by the BBS to be declining, so continued monitoring of its population is essential. In Minnesota, Niemi and Hanowski (1992) predicted Golden-crowned Kinglets would be negatively affected by loss of mature conifer trees if harvest scenarios began to exceed 4 million cords per year. However, this level of logging was never exceeded, and the level is currently substantially lower in Minnesota.

Swanson et al. (2012), in their review of the Golden-crowned Kinglet in North America, emphasized its affinity for breeding habitat in old-growth conifers in forests of western North America. They presented evidence that the species responded positively to insect outbreaks of spruce budworm and the Rocky Mountain pine beetle in several areas of North America where these outbreaks have occurred and where populations have been assessed. Furthermore, Swanson et al. (2012) outlined several studies that found negative effects of selective logging of conifer forests, especially if the thinning was relatively intense. In a meta-analysis of partial harvesting of forests, Vanderwel et al. (2007, 2009) suggested that the Golden-crowned Kinglet can maintain its abundance with light-intensity forest thinning when more than 70% of the trees are retained.

Langham et al. (2015) and the National Audubon Society (2015), in their review of climate susceptibility of North American breeding birds, identified the Golden-crowned Kinglet as “climate threatened.” They predicted a 31% loss of suitable climate space in its summer breeding range by 2080 and suggested its future will rely on two factors: “extensive conifer forests for breeders and plentiful small arthropods in winter.

  • Bednar, Josh D., Edmund J. Zlonis, Hannah G. Panci, Ron Moen, and Gerald J. Niemi. 2016. Development of Habitat Models and Habitat Maps for Breeding Bird Species in the Agassiz Lowlands Subsection, Minnesota, USA. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Report T-39-R-1/F12AF00328. Natural Resources Research Institute Technical Report NRRI/TR-2015-32.

  • Bednar, Joshua D., Nicholas G. Walton, Alexis R. Grinde, and Gerald J. Niemi. 2016. Summary of Breeding Bird Trends in the Chippewa and Superior National Forests of Minnesota – 1995–2016. Natural Resources Research Institute Technical Report NRRI/TR-2016/36.

  • Chartier, Allen T., Jennifer J. Baldy, and John M. Brenneman, eds. 2013. Michigan Breeding Bird Atlas II. Kalamazoo, MI: Kalamazoo Nature Center.

  • Cumming, Enid E., and Antony W. Diamond. 2002. “Songbird Community Composition Versus Forest Rotation Age in Saskatchewan Boreal Mixedwood Forest.” Canadian Field-Naturalist 116: 69–75.

  • Cutright, Noel, Bettie R. Harriman, and Robert W. Howe, eds. 2006. Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Wisconsin. Waukesha: Wisconsin Society of Ornithology, Inc.

  • Franzreb, Kathleen E. 1984. “Foraging Habits of Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets in an Arizona Montane Forest.” Condor 86: 139–145.

  • Galati, Robert. 1991. Golden-crowned Kinglets: Treetop Nesters of the North Woods. Ames: Iowa State Press.

  • Green, Janet C., and Robert B. Janssen. 1975. Minnesota Birds: Where, When and How Many. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

  • Hertzel, Anthony X., and Robert B. Janssen. 1998. County Nesting Records of Minnesota Birds. Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union Occasional Papers, no 2. Minneapolis: The Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union.

  • Janssen, Robert B. 1987. Birds in Minnesota. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

  • Langham, Gary M., Justin G. Schuetz, Trisha Distler, Candan U. Soykan, and Chad Wilsey. 2015. “Conservation Status of North American Birds in the Face of Future Climate Change.” PLoS One 10: e0135350. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0135350

  • Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. 2016. “Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa).” Minnesota Biological Survey: Breeding Bird Locations.

  • National Audubon Society. 2015. Audubon’s Birds and Climate Change Report: A Primer for Practitioners. Version 1.3. New York: National Audubon Society.

  • Niemi, Gerald J., and JoAnn M. Hanowski. 1992. “Bird Populations.” In The Patterned Peatlands of Minnesota, edited by H. E. Wright Jr., Barbara A. Coffin, and Norman E. Aaseng, 111–129. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

  • Niemi, Gerald J., Robert W. Howe, Brian R. Sturtevant, Linda R. Parker, Alexis R. Grinde, Nicholas P. Danz, Mark D. Nelson, Edmund J. Zlonis, Nicholas G. Walton, Erin E. Gnass Giese, and Sue M. Lietz. 2016. Analysis of Long Term Forest Bird Monitoring in National Forests of the Western Great Lakes Region. U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service General Technical Report NRS-159. Newtown Square, PA: USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station.

  • Partners in Flight Science Committee. 2013. Population Estimates Database. Version 2013.

  • Roberts, Thomas S. 1932. The Birds of Minnesota. 2 vols. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

  • Rosenberg, Kenneth V., Judith A. Kennedy, Randy Dettmers, Robert P. Ford, Debra Reynolds, John D. Alexander, Carol J. Beardmore, Peter J. Blancher, Roxanne E. Bogart, Gregory S. Butcher, Alaine F. Camfield, Andrew Couturier, Dean W. Demarest, Wendy E. Easton, Jim J. Giocomo, Rebecca Hylton Keller, Anne E. Mini, Arvind O. Panjabi, David N. Pashley, Terrell D. Rich, Janet M. Ruth, Henning Stabins, Jessica Stanton, and Tom Will. 2016. Partners in Flight Landbird Conservation Plan: 2016 Revision for Canada and Continental United States. Partners in Flight Science Committee.

  • Sauer, John R., Daniel K. Niven, James E. Hines, David J. Ziolkowski Jr., Keith L. Pardieck, Jane E. Fallon, and William A. Link. 2017. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 12.23.2015. Laurel, MD: U.S. Geological Survey Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.

  • Swanson, David L., James L. Ingold, and Robert Galati. 2012. “Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa).” The Birds of North America, edited by Paul G. Rodewald. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Retrieved from the Birds of North America: doi: 10.2173/bna.301

  • Vanderwel, Mark C., Jay R. Malcolm, and Stephen C. Mills. 2007. “A Meta-Analysis of Bird Responses to Uniform Partial Harvesting across North America.” Conservation Biology 21: 1230–1240.

  • Vanderwel, Mark C., Stephen C. Mills, and Jay R. Malcolm. 2009. “Effects of Partial Harvesting on Vertebrate Species Associated with Late-Successional Forests in Ontario’s Boreal Region.” Forestry Chronicle 85: 91–104.

  • Zlonis, Edmund J., Hannah G. Panci, Josh D. Bednar, Maya Hamady, and Gerald J. Niemi. 2017. “Habitats and Landscapes Associated with Bird Species in a Lowland Conifer-Dominated Ecosystem.” Avian Conservation and Ecology 12: 7. doi: 10.5751/ACE-00954-120107