For most of us the confirmation that spring has truly arrived is the appearance of a multitude of northbound songbirds. Among the earlier arrivals in this group are Western Kingbirds. Appearing locally by mid-March, and often observed migrating in loose flocks, their twittering dawn song is a reminder that spring has arrived. A fond memory one spring in Lone Pine long ago is that of being awakened before sunrise by several of these very vocal “song” birds.
Western Kingbirds spend their summers throughout most of the western United States, feeding and breeding in open country where their insect prey is plentiful. They are a common sight on fence posts, wires and other open perches from which they hawk insects and chase unwanted birds away. They will also take prey on the ground.
Kingbirds are well named. They are highly aggressive defenders of their territories and nests and are fearless and energetic when protecting them. Western Kingbirds have even nested successfully in the same tree with Cooper’s Hawks and other raptors.
By summer’s end these birds are almost entirely gone. A few linger later into the fall and even winter records have been increasing, but they are still very rare at that time. Most spend their winters in southern Mexico and Central America. As a bird that prefers open habitats, Western Kingbirds have benefited from the deforestation that has adversely affected many other species. The addition of wires, poles and tree plantings have allowed them to expand their range in the prairie region as well.
By Jon Fisher