Western Kingbird Takes Off

Kingbirds are named for their aggressive nature. A Kingbird will defend its territory and nest against all predators, even to the point of “riding” the back of a flying hawk or crow, all the time pecking the back of its head1. I witnessed this myself as a Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis) that was possibly nesting in the bottom of an Osprey nest atop a soccer field light stand, took off after one of the Osprey nestlings on its maiden flight out of the nest.

Western Kingbird

The Western Kingbird is one of eight species of tyrant flycatchers that breed in North America. They are specialized with long pointed wings for aerial hawking of insects, which make up the overwhelming majority of their diet.

Many Kingbirds and other species that regularly hawk prey in the air have a large, broad bill that maximizes their chances of seizing at least some part of an airborne insect when they snap their bill shut. Most also have rictal bristles, an array of stiff bristles (modified feathers) around the mouth. You may be able to see them on this photo.  Click on photos for full sized images.

Western Kingbird

Flycatchers are fun to watch as they fly out from their prominent perch when they sight an insect, grab it in mid air and return, often to the same perch.

Western Kingbird In Flight

Western Kingbirds can often be seen perched on fences and wires along the roadside. I was able to photograph this bird recently at Modoc National Wildlife Refuge as it began to rain.

Western Kingbird

He or she doesn’t look very excited about being photographed…

Western Kingbird

I’m not sure if it’s me or the rain…

Western Kingbird

or maybe the bird is simply curious as to what I am doing?

Western Kingbird

This final shot shows the white edges on the Western Kingbird’s black tail.

Western Kingbird

References: Sibley, D.A. (2001). The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf

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Written by Larry
Larry Jordan was introduced to birding after moving to northern California where he was overwhelmed by the local wildlife, forcing him to buy his first field guide just to be able to identify all the species visiting his yard. Building birdhouses and putting up feeders brought the avian fauna even closer and he was hooked. Larry wanted to share his passion for birds and conservation and hatched The Birder's Report in September of 2007. His recent focus is on bringing the Western Burrowing Owl back to life in California where he also monitors several bluebird trails. He is a BirdLife Species Champion and contributes to several other conservation efforts, being the webmaster for Wintu Audubon Society and the Director of Strategic Initiatives for the Urban Bird Foundation. He is now co-founder of a movement to create a new revenue stream for our National Wildlife Refuges with a Wildlife Conservation Pass.