12.20.20: Kingbird on green

An Eastern Kingbird perches on a branch on a spring morning, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Oak Harbor, Ohio.

An Eastern Kingbird perches on a branch on a spring morning, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Oak Harbor, Ohio.

A distinguished bird that rules its area

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 in a field in the wetlands in Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge along Lake Erie in Oak Harbor, Ohio. I was photographing the colorful migrating warblers on a spring morning when this distinguished kingbird caught my eye. The bird 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 green leaves beneath the bird and the defocused green background and foreground framed the black-and-white bird.

The kingbird’s scientific name is Tyrannus tyrannus. Tyrannus means tyrant or king and refers to the bird’s aggression. 

Tech specs

  • Date/time: May 17, 2017 8:33 AM   
  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II
  • Lens: EF600mm f/4L IS USM +1.4x 
  • Focal length: 840mm
  • Aperture: f/5.6
  • Shutter: 1/1250 second
  • ISO: 500