The Eastern Kingbird, a delightful bird to watch on June mornings, marks open areas with its broad tail feathers, notched at the bottom with white. To watch a kingbird is to see a bird puppeted about as it moves from a snag, hawks a group of insects, and returns to that same perch. Last year I witnessed the delightful presence of recently fledged kingbirds on a power line along North Shore Road. The parent bird went one by one and delivered food to each fledgling—a precise and delicate process.
Kingbirds can be found in open habitats, from savannas to prairies to orchards, across much of the United States, including all of Wisconsin. Constructing haphazard nests in shrbus and trees, the birds will defend those nests and territories from nearly every intruder. Aggressiveness of breeding birds is a common sight, and dazzling aerial maneuvers often ensue. In flight, the kingbird’s tail will regularly fan out, as the bird hovers, twists, and maneuvers chaotically.
Its Latin name Tyrannus means tyrant or despot, and the kingbird lives up to this with its defense of its nest from brown-headed cowbirds, blue jays, and hawks. You can find kingbirds at Faville Grove in most open habitats with a scattering of trees. Watch for their distinctive white tail tip and kiting flights in grassy areas.
Written by Drew Harry, Faville Grove Sanctuary land steward
Cover photo by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren