What… is the flight speed of an unladen Goldcrest?


An exhausted Goldcrest fresh from landfall at Spurn in 2014

An unintended consequence of yesterday’s post was that I found myself in a discussion on Facebook regarding how long it took a Goldcrest to fly across the North Sea between England and Scandinavia.

This wasn’t something I knew off the top of my head, and I couldn’t immediately find an answer. I took to the hive-mind of Twitter, even directing the question at the RSPB and BTO, but to no avail. I did however get lots of references to “laden or unladen?”, “African or European?” and mentions of coconuts. If you don’t know what that means, you need to watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

I was stumped, and may have quietly let it drop. But that lunchtime, for only the second time, I happened to spot a pair of Goldcrests flitting about in the trees on campus, building up their strength for the flight they may soon undertake.

So when I got home that evening I decided to do a bit more research, and eventually found a four year old story in which the BTO reported on the ten fastest British birds, based on their data. Happily, in an impressive fourth place, was the Goldcrest! Clocked at an astonishing 15-19 miles per hour. Not bad for a bird that weighs the same as a twenty pence piece.

So what does that give us as a flight time?


Let’s imagine our Goldcrest is crossing from Stavanger in Norway, to Spurn Point in England, as indicated above. There are shorter routes, but we’ll go with this, a distance of around 430 miles.

430 miles at 17mph is 25 hours and about 20 minutes. In other words, about a day. It’s a non-stop flight as there are no islands or handy woods to stop in*.

So, next time you see a Goldcrest, especially if it’s on the East coast in Autumn, bear in mind it’s just covered 400 miles in a day. If it looks tired, it has every right!

  • While there are no islands or handy woods, there are freighters and oil rigs, and for decades birds have been seen to stop on them in particularly bad weather. A search of the internet will reveal Short-Eared Owls perched on ships, falls of migrant finches, and a range of other delights. In fact, even the “birdie blender” offshore wind-farms so beloved of sections of the press can be a refuge. The platforms at the base of the turbines have been recorded as resting spots by tagged Harriers and Cuckoos.
  • It should also be noted that the study referenced doesn’t actually measure flight speed, it is calculating an average figure based on the time elapsed between two recorded points. Technically the bird could have flown the same distance much quicker, but hung about somewhere else before being recorded.
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One Response to What… is the flight speed of an unladen Goldcrest?

  1. Emily Scott says:

    Amazing what these little birds achieve. They must be very hungry when they get here.

I welcome thoughts, comments and questions, so please feel free to share anything at all. Thanks, David

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