Regulus regulus (Linnaeus, 1758)
Family: Passeriformes > Regulidae
Widely distributed throughout Britain & Ireland, this tiny songbird vies with the closely-related Firecrest for the title of our smallest breeding bird.
Being so small (5-6 g), Goldcrests are vulnerable in cold weather, and as such numbers fluctuate depending on the harshness of the seasons. In winter, the resident Goldcrest population is bolstered by arrivals from Fennoscandia, and impressive numbers can sometimes be found on the east coast in the autumn, recovering in the dunes after their long flight across the North Sea.
Despite their small size, female Goldcrests can lay up to 12 eggs in a clutch (one and a half times an adult's bodyweight). Goldcrests have an overall olive appearance, with their eponymous stripe on the top of their heads, which is more orange in males and yellow in females. Goldcrests can often be seen searching trees, especially conifers, for small invertebrate prey. Their high-pitched, repetitive song can also be a good way to find one.
Select a topic for more facts and statistics about the Goldcrest
Goldcrest identification is often straightforward. The following article may help when identifying Goldcrest.
The tiny Goldcrest, is a common year-round bird, found mainly in woodland and gardens. Its much rarer cousin, the Firecrest, is found in similar habitats. Can you tell the two species apart?
Listen to example recordings of the main vocalisations of Goldcrest, provided by xeno-canto contributors.
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Status and Trends
Population size and trends and patterns of distribution based on BTO surveys and atlases with data collected by BTO volunteers.
This species can be found on the following statutory and conservation listings and schedules.
Goldcrest abundance is affected unusually severely by winter weather, and the strong increase in the species' CBC/BBS index up to the mid 1970s can be interpreted as recovery from the cold winters of the early 1960s. The subsequent decline temporarily moved the species to the amber list, but its status has now been restored to green. The long-term trend looks very much like a series of damped oscillations following recovery from the 1962/63 winter. BBS has recorded some initial increase in all UK countries, followed by a long decline that ended around 2010, although a further decline has occurred in Wales since 2015 and the overall decline in Wales from 1995-2018 is of sufficient magnitude to trigger a higher level alert. The BBS map of change in relative density between 1994-96 and 2007-09 indicates that decrease occurred over that period in southwestern England, Wales and Caithness but that increases occurred elsewhere, especially in Northern Ireland and western Scotland. There has been a decline across Europe since 1980 (PECBMS: PECBMS 2020a>).
|UK breeding population||No population change in UK (1995–2020)|
Winter and breeding-season distributions of the Goldcrest are similar with birds found in 90% of 10-km squares in winter and 88% of squares in the breeding season. The main gaps in distribution occur in the treeless landscapes of the Scottish Highlands, Outer Hebrides, Northern Isles and the Fens in England. The highest densities in both seasons are found in Ireland.
Occupied 10-km squares in UK
|No. occupied in breeding season||2625|
|% occupied in breeding season||87|
|No. occupied in winter||2726|
|% occupied in winter||90|
European Distribution Map
Breeding Season Habitats
|Most frequent in||Coniferous Wood|
Relative frequency by habitat
Modest gains in the number of occupied 10-km squares have been recorded in both winter and the breeding season.
Change in occupied 10-km squares in the UK
|% change in range in breeding season (1968–72 to 2008–11)||+4.8%|
|% change in range in winter (1981–84 to 2007–11)||+11.6%|
Goldcrest is recorded year-round on around 15% of complete lists, increasing to almost 30% in autumn when there is a large arrival of birds from the continent.
Information about movement and migration based on online bird portals (e.g. BirdTrack), Ringing schemes and tracking studies.
Lifecycle and body size information about Goldcrest, including statistics on nesting, eggs and lifespan based on BTO ringing and nest recording data.
View number ringed each year in the Online Ringing Report
|Maximum Age from Ringing||5 years 1 months 12 days (set in 2016)|
|Typical Lifespan||2 years with breeding typically at 1 year|
|Wing Length||Adults||52.8±1.8 | Range 50–56mm, N=13850|
|Juveniles||53.1±1.7 | Range 50-56mm, N=48767|
|Males||53.9±1.5 | Range 52–56mm, N=7394|
|Females||51.7±1.4 | Range 50–54mm, N=6381|
|Body Weight||Adults||5.33±0.62 | Range 4.70–6.10g, N=12013|
|Juveniles||5.36±0.5751 | Range 4.80–6.10g, N=40984|
|Males||5.40±0.44 | Range 4.80–6.10g, N=6379|
|Females||5.25±0.77 | Range 4.60–6.00g, N=5570|
Feather measurements and photos on featherbase
|Field Codes||2-letter: GC | 5-letter code: GOLDC | Euring: 13140|
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Interpretation and scientific publications about Goldcrest from BTO scientists.
Causes of change
Severe weather is likely to have caused wide short-term variability in abundance, but there is little good evidence available regarding the drivers of the longer-term breeding population change in this species in the UK, although
Further information on causes of change
The high amplitude of year-to-year change reflects the species' high breeding potential, and its sensitivity to cold winter weather. Modelling suggests that climate change may have had a positive impact on the long-term trend for this species (Pearce-Higgins & Crick 2019). CBC had relatively poor coverage of conifer plantations, in which Goldcrests occur at increasing densities as the trees mature. A general increase in the area of prime habitat has therefore been poorly reflected in the long-term trend.
Information about conservation actions
Annual changes in Goldcrest abundance are probably driven mainly by winter weather and hence specific conservation options for this species may be limited. Numbers may increase in the future due to warming from climate change, although this is uncertain as the effects of climate change could include increased frequency of severe weather events.
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