Japanese kingbird: An professional at catching flying bugs


“The Eastern Kingbird shows the boldest courage and gallantly drives away any intruder … Should he see a crow, a vulture, a martin or an eagle in the neighborhood or in the distance, he spreads his wings in the air and presses on him dangerous enemy, approaches him and begins his attack with anger. ”

– John James Audubon, ornithologist (1785-1851)

The eastern kingbird is a common bird across Idaho in open fields and prairies. I usually see them on branches, electrical lines or fence wires, either individually or in small numbers. They have the typical upright posture of flycatchers and spend a lot of time flying from a perch, catching an insect in flight, and returning to the same perch. They are also very aggressive towards other species. I’ve seen them molest larger birds like ravens and hawks.

The eastern kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus) belongs to the family of “tyrant” flycatchers. They are called “tyrants” because of their aggressive reaction (bullying) to other species that they consider a threat to their territory. The targets of their attacks are others of their own species, crows, hawks, kestrels, snakes and squirrels. They have even been known to knock unsuspecting blue jays out of trees.

Eastern Kingbirds are medium-sized flycatchers with a black head, slate-gray back, and a black tail with a wide white tail. The bird’s lower parts are white with a light gray wash on the chest. It also has an orange-red crown spot that is rarely seen except occasionally during commercials or when the bird is in an excited state – for example, to chase potential predators out of its territory.

It is the most widespread of the kingbirds in all of North America and inhabits a wide variety of habitats including open areas such as clearings, roadsides, farmland and orchards, grasslands with scattered trees and bushes, and openings near water (swamps and ponds).

Eastern king birds eat insects during the breeding season and both insects and fruit outside of the breeding season. From May to September, insects make up 85 percent of the diet, including bees and wasps, beetles, grasshoppers, beetles, and flies. Insect prey is mainly caught by a perch. They run from the perches to catch flying prey in their air. They will also take insects out of the water or the ground by floating or reading them. Small prey is eaten immediately, larger prey is returned to the perch and smashed until they are subdued before being eaten. Larger prey are preferred. Fruit is taken in flight while you hover or read.

Most predators target eggs and nestlings. Adults from the Eastern Kingbird are sometimes captured by aerial predators such as American kestrels. Eastern kingbirds are aggressive and will vigorously attack perceived threats when they are nearby. You will dive at a threat with your combs raised, exposing the red crown feathers, and mouths wide open to reveal their bright red crevice. They will attack the threat repeatedly until they withdraw. Eggs and nestlings are hunted by crows, ravens, blue jays, squirrels and small snakes.

The Eastern Kingbird is most easily recognized by its dark gray head and back, pale chest, and black tail with the distinctive white band on top. This species differs most easily from the related western kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis) by the paler body and the light yellow belly of this species. Male and female eastern kingbirds are similar in all seasons.

The maximum life expectancy of an eastern king bird is 11.1 years in the wild and it can bread for the first year.

Enjoy Boundary County and all of its wildlife!

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Note: A photo correction for the “outer column” from July 23: The photos were of tiger lilies or Colombia lilies (Lilium columbianum), not of glacier lilies (Erythronium grandiflorum). I apologize for any confusion.