Through the Looking Glass of Val Lee – Western Kingbird

Kingbird (Western) @ Val Lee

From the first, I will inform you, I was not stopping to take photos of this gorgeous bird when my husband and I were traveling in eastern Oregon about three weeks ago. While driving toward Pendleton, my eyes caught sight of a picturesque farm off the freeway. (Notation: Pendleton maintains the record for the highest recorded temperature in the Northwest—119 degree in 1898. And Yes, it is in Pendleton where the Pendleton Woolen Mills began weaving intricate virgin wool blankets for Nez Perce natives, and they still produce quality blankets with indigenous designs in this local.)

Oregon Palouse @ Val Lee

Upon shooting a few scenic photos (one above), I noticed I was trespassing on a coveted plot of Palouse farmland! I had not detected that I was being watched. Not only scoped, but plotted against.

A riled group were determined to scare me off their homestead. They had quickly nailed up a wanted poster. I was listed as public enemy #1. No, they had no shotguns, simply the ability to fly radically low above my head, chanting crazed threats. I knew well enough that this dialogue was not happy pow wow talk. I often wonder what is being conveyed through bird chatter. I guess they thought I knew their language like I expect my cats to understand every word I spout out at them. Jesus Christ has gifted each bird species with an interesting form of vocal communications.

Naturally, I wondered how low these kings of the field would venture at me, expressing themselves in circling flight patterns and in rapid bird dialogue.

Kingbird Western @ Val Lee

Western Kingbird by Val Lee

I was intent on standing steadfast on my now claimed ground. Surely these flyers recognized I was no scaredy cat. Fortunately, they did not hate me enough to fly down and hit my noggin. (Years ago, a nesting Robin attempted this with me. I had to carry a badminton racquet to protect my head in my own yard.)

The shutter button had turned about-face to the yellow birding subject matter that was in expression mode. While gazing upon them and photographing, I tried to catch some winged discernment. At times it ran through my mind that these are a type of Swallow. However, I knew of no Swallow family it resembled and none that displayed a yellow chest. I concluded they could not be Swallows through their perching stance, appearance and bird talk.

Birds do not normally swoop down at people, unless they venture too near a nest. However, I remember walking through a hospital parking lot and many crows where chasing a man of the shady sort. He was so agitated. He could not figure it out. He swiftly went into the hospital for cover. Being a busy hospital, other people walked through this parking lot, but these Crows chose to hotly pursue this one man. You can wonder at times what goes through a mind of a bird, and how they collaborate with their fellow kind.

It appeared the only place my pursuers could place a nest was on the ground. No trees were in sight. I did look above for high nests, around the electric pole, but I spotted none.

Killdeer birds place their nests on open ground. Since this hunk of land was timber-less, I decided I might hold a clue. I walked from the gravel area toward the plot where the birds landed frequently. I had to press on gingerly. My white shoes sunk into the very soft, most productive, brown dust. The clean leather received a good powdering.

(The famous Power River of Oregon flows near this area, named in honor of the soil. Lewis and Clark referred to this expanse as powdery soil, penning in their diary the native Indian designation for it—Port-pel-lah.

Powder River is a tributary of the Snake River, which serpentines about 7 miles south of our home in Idaho. The Power River, when rich with gold, brought gold seekers out west in the mid 1800’s.)

I spotted no nests. Perhaps these birds in motion were simply feasting on ground bugs.

Upon investigation, after returning home, I learned these aves are Western Kingbirds (Tyrannus verticalis). They are described as Swallow-like by ornithologists, being they too are fly kings. They catch flies and other insects on the wing. They keep their telescopic eyes peering while perched on a wire. They are ever-ready for takeoff. They own helicopter-like hovering abilities. My son is a licensed helicopter pilot, flying frequently. He certainly can understand such maneuvering better than I.

For some unknown reason, Kingbirds are attracted to power pole conductor sites. They believe their family homes should be placed around these lofty powerful areas. They may also choose trees and buildings; however, the family lot choice is line power. They never place nests on the ground. When it comes to perching, you will sight them on wires—high and low. They love to wrap their cute little feet around them, three toes forward, one backward.

Kingbird (Western) @ Val Lee

The Western Kingbirds who had made me their subject matter appeared to possess a split personality. Where at times they were agitated with me, other times, they acted as if they didn’t notice me when on the near barbwire fence. These acrobats would fly between the high wires to the low wires of a barbwire fence. I was able to come near the fence with my camera, and it seemed they did not even want to make eye contact with me.

My video with their chirping sound:

(Eye contact with aves can prove interesting. When sitting a few feet from my bird feeder in the backyard, some birds will feed without a care if I do not make eye contact with them. If I look them in the eye, they fly off squawking, sounding off, as if I were taking a bat to them. I believe they want to communicate to friends that they are in danger or so they think. Now a small remnant of birds are braver and you can look them in the eye and they display no fear.)

Though on a deserted plane—no homes in sight, I didn’t seem to scare the Western Kingbirds in the slightest bit. Maybe they were just playing games with me, like Magpies chasing a cat, all in irritating fun.

The Western Kingbirds do no take to timberlands; they prefer farmland with barbwire and electric transmission lines. They have become most plentiful through farmlands and ranches that foster petite, aerial bug life. The kings are not the type to protest the removal of forestland for farms and ranches. More farmland and ranch-land the better.

Western Kingbirds by Val Lee

You can see from the first segment of my video a mother is feeding her young. They were not newly hatched chicks. They were simply spoiled teenagers or so I say. They certainly were old enough to catch their own bugs, being they were flying everywhere. I guess, Mom did not want them to grow up too fast. I find it fascinating when a bird mom is feeding her young that are about as large as she is.

The kings are monogamous, mating for life. However, before a lifetime commitment can be set in stone, a single guy must powerfully impress a gal. He must be the greatest stunt flight performer of all time. A courting male must twist and turn to about 60 feet in the air at which point he stalls, and then tumbles, flips, and twists; while falling toward the ground. But do not fear! He will recover himself right before a crash. Imagine that. He must descend to the ground as if his engine suddenly died. When the gal is left speechless, he will alight again for the grand finale. And there you have a match made in yonder sky.

Following the aeronautical showmanship stage of the relationship, the impressed and committed lady with the yellow smock, builds a cup of grass, weeds, twigs, and plant fibers near a transformer on a utility pole, or on a fence, or on a building or in a tree. She dutifully lines it with feathers, plant down, and hair. She incubates three to four creamy-white spotted eggs for about two weeks. Both parents feed their young, which depart the nest at 16 to 17 days. The caring parents will continue to feed their youth for another two to three weeks, until they reach the skilled stage of fly catching through being home-schooled on independence.

Western Kingbirds are not taught their lively songs by their parents, they arrive in this world as accomplished vocalists; this proven by research.

“Tyrant” best describes the Kingbirds’ aggressive behavior. The ornithological term for a group of Kingbirds is a “Tyrant of Kingbirds.” They are the absolute monarchs of their territories. A Kingbird is greatly heightened in enthusiasm when it is able to attack birds of prey that pass through its nesting territory. The king will even land on the backs or tails of flying Hawks or other threatening birds to harass and drive them away. One Kingbird did its very best to attack a small, low-flying aircraft that flew through its territory. A mighty brave warrior.

In my video, a strange red appears in the mouth area of the royal young of the kings. I couldn’t figure what was causing the bright scarlet coloring. I wondered if it was some type of light ray that created the effect. There is also a small amount of red on their face that can only be detected through zooming in. They also display a patch area of red on their kingly crown. When agitated, the kings will spread their red crown feathers. This is a small red feather area hidden beneath black feathers atop the head. Red is a display expression color of for this Kingbird.

The LORD God has provided us many avenues of expression, which He commands that we use wisely. He has provided us with feelings of love that should be most prominent in our lives. Love for Him should rise above all other loves. Jesus Christ asked of Peter, “Do you love Me more than these” (meaning the other disciples); John 21:15.

Loving God first causes us to obey Him; whereby, we do not fall into sin or the error of following men who always fail us. God the Son loved mankind so much that He died on a tree for our sins that we might be saved through His free gift of sacrifice. To learn more please click here: Letter to the Bird Enthusiast!.

The Western Kingbird is the largest flycatcher in the west—8 to 9.5 inches in length. This outlaw fly king has no match.

Male and female are similar in appearance. They display gray upperparts, dark head, white throat and upper chest. Main torso area is yellow. They display brown wings and their tail is black with white edging. Quite the design, courtesy of God.

Their diet mainly consists of insects (flies, bees, wasps, ants, grasshoppers, etc). They also enjoy berries and other fruits. Kings will hover (called “aerial hawking”) over insects or plant food sources before consumption.

The Western Kingbird breeds throughout the West, from southern Canada south to Mexico, east to the Great Plains, May-August. They are fall migrants along the Atlantic coast and they winter in the tropics. In 1915 this ave made its debut in Florida. It enjoys the warmth of this state as a snowbird.

Kingbirds live an average of six years.

*Info gratefully gathered from various web sources.

My Palouse photo video. Just click below:

Pretty Palouse (with music)

Please click here: letter-to-bird-enthusiast