Eastern Kingbirds have long been a favorite bird of mine. In fact, just a few days ago I was asked "ten questions" for an interview (you can read it HERE) and one of them was the obligatory "what's your favorite bird" line of inquiry. Since I don't have one favorite bird, I rattled off a half-dozen or so notables, and the kingbird was one of them.
So when I ran across the following photos yesterday, I just had to try and get permission to share them. The photographer, Allan Claybon, kindly consented. I've seen Allan's work here and there for quite some while, and his skills with a camera rise far above the norm. Check out his stuff HERE, and prepare to be dazzled.
Photo: Allan Claybon
Eastern Kingbirds ooze personality. These feathered tough guys brook no invasion of their personal space by birds for which they have no tolerance, and that includes species many times their size such as crows, hawks, and eagles. If one of these comparative jumbos dares to violate the airspace over a kingbird's nesting territory, it is going to learn of its mistake right quick.
Like a feathered SAM (surface to air missile), one of the kingbird pair will quickly scramble skyward when an offending party lumbers into restricted airspace. The ensuing dogfight is a sight to behold. It's really not much of a dogfight, actually - the much clumsier and less agile hawk, heron, vulture or whatever the case may be starts madly rowing its wings to escape the kingbird's wrath. Reminiscent of a P-51 Mustang fighter plane, the kingbird rapidly gains altitude and gets above the interloper. It then dive bombs its target, brutally strafing the topside of the now panicked enemy. I have actually seen a kingbird land on the back of a Red-tailed Hawk and hammer away at it, while the poor raptor tries to shake its tormentor away.
Small wonder they named this ferocious flycatcher Tyrannus tyrannus.
Back to Allan's amazing photo, above. What a shot! The white-tipped tail, looking as if it was dunked in white paint, is on clear display. But best of all, we can see the scarlet crown patch - definitely not something one often can observe. Kingbirds normally conceal this war paint amongst the other crown feathers. But when battle time rolls around and enemy engagement is called for, the bird flares that feathered warning flag in can't miss fashion.
Photo: Allan Claybon
Warpaint flared, and kingbird hot on the heels of a hapless American Crow. It almost seems as if the crow is saying "Oh My God", and you can be sure it is hotfooting it the heck out of that kingbird's turf. Smart cookies that they are, it's likely that this crow will remember this bully, and not trespass here again.
There's much more to these interesting flycatchers, but that'd require another post. But Allan's stunning images certainly bring out one of their most interesting character traits. Perhaps you see why Eastern Kingbirds rank high among my favorite birds.
Thanks again to Allan for graciously sharing his work with us.