The Western kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis) hangs out along the roads of Colorado, as it does all across Western North America. It appears the bird is one of the a success story as it has been expanding it’s range to Eastern, overlapping more and more with it’s cousin the Eastern Kingbird.
Crossroads Bird – Western Kingbird
I have seen this bird on many of trips to the US and Canada. In Colorado I saw, what to me, was very odd behaviour. Driving up to the Pawnee National Grassland, I drove through a number of small Coloradoan towns. At main intersection and crossroads on the highways and in the towns, Western Kingbirds had congregated. Stopping at red lights I was intrigued to watch this birds of the open prairies, hawking amongst the traffic with no care. What was it about crossroads and intersections that attracted whatever insects they were catching?
Pawnee National Grasslands – Kingbirds
Out in what is more familiar Kingbird country, the rolling plains of the Pawnee National grasslands, I found gangs of Kingbirds, There were both western and eastern Western kingbird were in a larger groups. The largest was a group of 12 all sitting high on tall dead stems. In the grey and wet air, they looked slight bedraggled, drench in rain.
The Arkansas Flycatacher or Chlowish-pil
The Western kingbird didn’t not always go by this name. In Bird’s of America, Audubon refers to the bird as the Arkansas flycatcher. He provides descriptions and notes on the Western kingbird by three of America’s great early, pioneering ornithologists (one in fact was English).
“We first met with this bold and querulous species, early in July, in the scanty woods which border the north-west branch of the Platte, within the range of the Rocky Mountains; and from thence we saw them to the forests of the Columbia and the Wahlamet, as well as in all parts of Upper California, to latitude 32 degrees. They are remarkably noisy and quarrelsome with each other, and in the time of incubation, like the King-bird, suffer nothing of the bird kind to approach them without exhibiting their predilection for battle and dispute. About the middle of June, in the dark swamped forests of the Wahlamet, we every day heard the discordant clicking warble of this bird, somewhat like tsh’k, tsh’k, tshivait, sounding almost like the creaking of a rusty door-hinge, somewhat in the manner of the King-bird, with a blending of the notes of the Blackbird or Common Grakle. Although I saw these birds residing in the woods of the Columbia, and near the St. Diego in Upper California, I have not been able to find the nest, which is probably made in low thickets, where it would be consequently easily overlooked. In the Rocky Mountains they do not probably breed before midsummer, as they are still together in noisy quarrelsome bands until the middle of June.”
Mr. TOWNSEND’S notice respecting it is as follows: “This is the Chlowish-pil of the Chinooks… The males are wonderfully belligerent, fighting almost constantly, and with great fury, and their loud notes of manner and defiance remind one strongly of the discordant grating and creaking of a rusty door-hinge. The Indians of the Columbia accuse them of a propensity to destroy the young and eat the eggs of other birds.
I have never witness this ‘querulous, belligerent behaviour’. I am sure that they have not become calmer over the years. Certainly the way they hawked amongst the traffic in Greeley and elsewhere is a example of their boldness. And l a certain disregard for humans and modernity. In the main I encounter them along the highways and byways. They are perched on a post or along the wire of fence, waiting, ruffled by the winds of the plain, for insects.
They are are avian emblem of the roads of America, just as they were for Ken Kaufman in his great book – Kingbird Highway. And sometimes when I am out they on the pond, burning the miles in pursuit of birds, I feel as if a I following in his footsteps. As wells as those of the great pioneering birders of centuries past.