GOLDCREST (Regulus regulus)
FIRECREST (Regulus ignicapillus)
I am breaking with the normal pattern of this site and combining two species on one page here, this is because these two are particularly hard to tell apart either visually or audibly and doing it this way will make it easier to do the comparisons.
So what makes them so hard to tell apart ? Well for a start they are the two smallest birds in Europe, weighing in at a mighty 6g they are about 30% smaller than a small warbler like a Chiffchaff. At that size they have a huge need for food to keep themselves warm and so are constantly active looking for food and never seem still. This activity also usually takes place in the upper parts of the pine trees that form their favoured habitat, and they are both a similar coloration to each other and to the trees they sit in. All in all they are about as difficult as you can get !
In Switzerland they can both be found throughout the year, although the Firecrest is rare in winter. In both cases the winter birds are most likely migrants from further north. The Goldcrest has a range which extends much further east than the Firecrest, but both are birds of montane forests, reaching their greatest densities between about 1000 and 1800m. In recent times the Firecrest has extended its range across the alps.
The English common names are misleading because both have crest colours that are pretty much the same - a sort of yellow-ish orange crown set on top of a black stripe. The main visual difference is identified in the French name of the Firecrest - "triple-bandeau" because the Firecrest has a white eyebrow (or supercilium to use the technical term), which is topped by the black stripe and then yellow-orange crown, this gives the Firecrest a sort of stripey appearance with the three colours - so look out for that white area, don't look at the crown !
They are a little easier to tell apart by voice, except that a bird this size does not make a loud noise and both use very high frequencies and so it can be very hard to hear (especially for those of a certain age who may be losing their high frequency hearing). Let's deal with each in turn:
GOLDCREST / Roitelet huppé
This bird has a very pleasant little song that has a few introductory notes with a sort of rhythmic cycling motion to them and is then terminated by a flourish of variable notes:
Here is a still of the sonogram, you can see the introduction and the terminal flourish and I have drawn on it in red the up and down rhythm at the start which I find quite distinctive in the field:
Here is a longish sonogram, try and look out for that rhythmic start to each phrase. Note also that phrase 3 does not have the terminal flourish and this sometimes happens, but the start notes are just the same.
The terminal flourish is very variable.
FIRECREST / Roitlete triple-bandeau
By contrast the Firecrest song is rather monotonous - like the Goldcrest very high pitched it is a series of simple notes starting out at about 7Khz rising ever so slightly during each phrase to finish at about 7.5Khz, each phrase has a sort of "buzzy" tone to it:
If we look at the still of the sonogram you can get the idea:
Notice that each of the final few notes in each phrase has a sort of tremolo or modulated effect to it, maybe this is what makes them sound a little "buzzy" ?
Here is a sonogram of three song phrases:
You can see the steady rise in tone and the much more static nature to this song.
To summarise it all here are both birds compared - Goldcrest first and Firecrest second:
To finish with, in case I seem to be setting too many fixed rules here, all vocalisations can change according to circumstances. Here is a Firecrest that had an interaction with a Robin, if you follow the sonogram (where the timings are all as they were originally) you hear a normal Firecrest song at about 2s, then it encountered a Robin and completely broke its normal song pattern at 8s, the Robin replied at 9s and then the Firecrest continued as normal at 10s - just a brief inter-specific encounter, I am not sure who was being aggressive to whom however: