01.01.23: Kingbird on green

An Eastern Kingbird perches atop a plant stem in Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Oak Harbor, Ohio.

An Eastern Kingbird perches atop a plant stem in Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Oak Harbor, Ohio.

Tech specs

  • Date/time: May 15, 2018 2:59 PM   
  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II
  • Lens: EF600mm f/4L IS USM +1.4x 
  • Focal length: 840mm
  • Aperture: f/5.6
  • Shutter: 1/1000 second
  • ISO: 250

The bird has a crown that’s often hidden

The Eastern Kingbird is a distinguished-looking bird.

With its bright white underside topped by dark gray — almost black — feathers on its back, wings and head and white-tipped tail, the Eastern Kingbird looks like it is dressed for a formal occasion. And the kingbird’s behavior — chasing after any bird, large or small, that dares to fly over its territory — makes it clear that the bird is indeed king of its area.

I had always assumed that the name “kingbird” came from a combination of the bird’s look and its behavior.

I was wrong.

It turns out that the Eastern Kingbird has a crown, although I’ve never seen it.

According to All About Birds, my favorite online source for bird information, "The Eastern Kingbird has a crown of yellow, orange, or red feathers on its head, but the crown is usually concealed. When it encounters a potential predator the kingbird may simultaneously raise its bright crown patch, stretch its beak wide open to reveal a red gape, and dive-bomb the intruder.”

The kingbird’s scientific name is Tyrannus tyrannus. Tyrannus means tyrant or king and refers to the bird’s aggression. When defending nests, kingbirds will attack much larger predators like hawks or squirrels. Kingbirds have been known to knock unsuspecting Blue Jays off of tree limbs. 

All the Eastern Kingbirds that I’ve photographed have been perched calmly atop small trees or tall plants in fields. I’ve never seen one in its aggressive, crown-raised posture. Maybe one of these days.

I found this kingbird perched above the wetlands at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge in Oak Harbor, Ohio, along Lake Erie, on a trip to photograph migrating warblers. The kingbirds was doing what I see most kingbirds doing: surveying its area and occasionally flying up to grab an insect in midair before returning to its perch.

I liked how the defocused green background isolated the black-and-white bird.

The Eastern Kingbird has a crown of yellow, orange, or red feathers on its head, but the crown is usually concealed. 

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