What’s The Smallest British Bird? The Goldcrest

On April 30, 2014 by Tim Newman

Photo by Frank Vassen

What’s the smallest bird in the UK? It’s the goldcrest (Regulus regulus). I know you want to say ‘wren,’ but it isn’t. If you asked your teacher or guardian as a youth, that was probably the answer you got, but there we go.

The goldcrest is Britain’s smallest bird. Don’t get me wrong, I like the look of the wren, but the goldcrest is much, much jazzier. In European folklore, its golden crest has earned it the name “king of the birds” and they belong to a family of birds called the kinglets.

Photo by Francis C. Franklin

The goldcrest shares its claim of being the smallest UK bird with a similar looking (but rarer) colleague called the firecrest (Regulus ignicapillus). The RSPB website refers to the firecrest as a “restless jewel of a bird” which I think is a rather marvelous and fitting description.

Here’s one shouting about something or other in Taiwan:

Smallest Bird Britain - Firecrest Taiwan

The goldcrest, which weighs about the same as a 20 pence piece, is resident throughout the UK, but the firecrest only resides permanently in a very small pocket of England’s south east coast.

Incredibly, the goldcrest migrates from Scandinavia to British shores each year. In days gone by, folk could not believe that such a tiny bird could possibly make the trip under its own steam. It was assumed that it must hitch a ride on some other, more powerful bird.

For this reason, in some places, the goldcrest became known as the woodcock’s pilot.


Goldcrests love woodland and forests, snacking on spiders, small insects, and moth eggs. On the other side of the coin, sparrowhawks absolutely love eating goldcrests.

The goldcrest has done pretty well for itself as a species and now cover most of Europe and down into Asia. They’re tougher than they look. They’ve been successfully breeding in Iceland since 1999 and have been spotted as far afield as Jordan and Morocco.

One oddity about their behaviour is that if they get lost in the fog, they will often be drawn to lighthouses in huge numbers.

To conclude, I hope that next time you are asked what the smallest UK bird is, you will be able to answer correctly. Let’s fight together to ensure this king of birds gets the credit it’s due.

Click Here To See Photos Of This Weird Potoo Bird

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