Summer is finally kicking up into full gear here in Wichita. Last week, we saw temperatures into the triple digits and, man, was it hot! Besides just heat, summer means we get special birds that we only see during the hot days. One such bird is the Western Kingbird, who can be seen at the tops of trees, powerlines, and sometimes on the ground as it hunts for insects!
Like quite a few of the birds I’ve discussed in the past few weeks, the Western Kingbird is an insectivore. This means that you won’t be seeing them at your bird feeders, though they can be backyard visitors. The kingbirds need both trees and open spaces, so the farmland of the Great Plains is a fantastic place for them.
The Western Kingbird is gray on top, bright yellow on the chest and belly. They have crests, kind of like cardinals and Blue Jays. They are about the size of a robin and are generally found either in pairs or solo.
The genus name for all kingbirds is Tyrannus, which is Latin for “tyrant.” They’re given this name because kingbirds are exceptionally territorial. If you get too close to a kingbird nest, you’re in trouble. These birds will attack anything and they will do so relentlessly and viciously. They’ll attack others birds, including hawks and other birds of pray, people, and even pets. They do not care. If you get close, they will let you know by furiously dive bombing and pecking. Case in point, I watched a kingbird in my backyard drive away about a half-dozen grackles the other day. And when it was done with the grackles, it chased away a squirrel all the way through the cotton field in my backyard, dive bombing it over and over again.
The nests they’re defending are cup-style nests, usually placed in trees. They are not opposed to using a man-made structure like a telephone pole, either. The female typically lays around five eggs, though some will not reach maturity because she will kick a few out of the nest when it gets overcrowded. Talk about picking a favorite child!
The call of the Western Kingbird is unmistakable. They sound like squeaky dog toys. They don’t have protracted songs like cardinals or other songbirds, so expect just to hear some high-pitched squeaks.
I found these birds tough to photograph simply due to how high they like to hang out. They are not often found anywhere low and eye level, so I found myself looking up a lot trying to find them. Please, enjoy the album below of the pictures I’ve snagged!