My attention was drawn to a fish crow flying erratically over some open country last week. By the way it was behaving, it looked like something was persistently harassing it.
A closer look revealed that indeed there was a much smaller bird dive-bombing and chasing it. I guessed what kind of bird was doing the chasing but when I heard sort of a rattling, sputtering scolding I knew it was an Eastern kingbird.
Eastern kingbirds are fearless defenders of their territories. They nest in open country so they can see the airspace for quite some distance. You might think that potential predators like crows, grackles and hawks would be the recipients of their ire, but the kingbirds don’t seem to discriminate too much.
Even nonpredators will receive a dose of an angry kingbird. I have watched them chase off green herons, killdeer, pileated woodpeckers and vultures. They are not content just to make a lot of noise and do some harmless chasing either. These scrappy birds want to inflict some pain. I have seen pictures and watched them myself actually land on the back of their victim and ride for a few seconds. Everything seems to be a threat to these most paranoid of birds.
Eastern kingbirds are not brightly colored but are quite handsome nonetheless. They are dark grey on their upper parts and white on the under parts. The tail has a conspicuous white band on the end, a useful identification mark. They also have a small red crown stripe, but this mark is hard to see.
Eastern kingbirds are with us only during the nesting season. Look for them anywhere there are a few acres of open or semi-open country. They will often perch conspicuously on the tops of saplings, on wires, or on fences – the better to survey the boundaries of their territories. If you discover a pair, take some time to watch them. Eventually these active birds will put on an entertaining show when they light out to tackle another threat, real or perceived.