Hello, everybody. I apologize, but serious computer troubles, an early deadline and an impending holiday derailed my intended column for this week. So, I am revisiting a previous column with all-new photos.
The multi-colored western kingbird is a close relative of the scissor-tailed flycatcher.
In Oklahoma, western kingbirds are often seen perched on roadside barbed wire fences and on overhead utility lines, as well as trees and shrubs.
Although the scissortail and the western kingbird share a preference for the same type of habitat — open country — the western kingbird is much more likely to inhabit suburban and even urban areas. In fact, I see many in the downtown Ada area every day during spring and summer.
Their sounds and calls are similar to those of the scissor-tailed flycatcher but are higher in pitch and faster.
Western kingbirds — like many tyrant flycatchers — will aggressively chase away predators from their (the kingbird’s) territories, including much larger birds who venture into their territories, which are not very large and shrink as the nesting season progresses.
The western kingbird spends spring and summer in the United States and in portions of northern Mexico and southern Canada. It winters in southern Mexico and in Central America. However, a small population of the birds winters in southern Florida.
According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the western kingbird was originally known as the Arkansas kingbird and the oldest western kingbird recorded was a male, which was at least 6 years, 11 months old when he was found.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology reports that at the end of summer, western kingbirds begin their southward migration by flying to New Mexico, eastern Arizona and northern Mexico, where they undergo a complete molt. They then fly to their wintering grounds.
The western kingbird measures about 8 to 9 inches from the tip of the tail to the tip of the bill. It is gray overall. The head, nape of the neck and the back are gray, while the throat and breast are a paler gray. Wing feathers are dark gray with slight white edges, while the tail is black with white edging. Perhaps the most striking color on the western kingbird is the bright lemon-yellow belly. Males and females look alike.
The nesting range covers the western half of the United States and runs from southern Texas north through Oklahoma and on to southern Canada, and west to Washington and California. It’s rare, but a few western kingbirds will nest as far east as the eastern portions of Arkansas and Missouri.
Male and female pairs bond after arriving from the wintering grounds and stay together through the nesting season. Western kingbirds usually nest in trees or shrubs, but birds that inhabit residential and urban areas will sometimes nest on man-made structures, such as the top of electric poles or even in between, like the nesting birds in my photos.
The female lays two to six eggs and incubates them for about two weeks. Both parents feed nestlings, which grow rapidly and will be ready to leave the nest after two to three weeks. Parents will continue to feed their young for up to three weeks after the young have left the nest. Western kingbirds will have one to two broods each year.
Western kingbirds prefer open country, such as prairies dotted with shrubs and trees. They will also populate roadsides, farmland, open woodland, fields, desert scrubland parks and urban and suburban areas.
Western kingbirds often perch on fences and utility wires and watch for prey, which includes a variety of insects. Once spotted, the kingbird will fly out and hawk the insect in mid-flight. They will also hover over the ground, waiting for an insect to move, and will also grab up prey from the ground. They prey on wasps, grasshoppers, beetles, flies, caterpillars, moths, true bugs, spiders and sometimes millipedes.
According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, western kingbirds occasionally eat fruits of elderberry, hawthorn, Texas mulberry, woodbine and other shrubs.
Randy Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. He has been an avid birdwatcher, nature enthusiast and photographer for more than 40 years. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.