King of the perch

The Western Kingbirds arrive in the spring like college freshmen – in large, noisy groups. They mob the acacia tree in the backyard next door, raising a racket and swooping through the yard on their way to another neighbor’s tree. The Hesper aloe stalks that we leave undisturbed next to the stream are a favored perch (the better to see you, my pretty flying insects …). Members of the flycatcher family, they sally forth in looping flight patterns, snatching prey mid flight before landing, often in the place from which they took off.


Field marks: Gray head, flycatcher bill, pale yellow abdomen, narrow white feathers at edges of tail.

They stick around the neighborhood through the fall, but when the heat slams down like a sledgehammer they pretty much disappear from the yard. Maybe they have other campsites that they like better in summer. Or, maybe their behavior changes! The bird that visited the stream this morning made me wonder about that. Why was he alone? Is flocking a breeding behavior?

After moving these images from camera to Photoshop, I noticed that this bird looked a little bedraggled.  The feathers are missing in a spot on his upper abdomen, under his left wing, where there appears to be a wound. Before I grabbed the camera, I watched him with binoculars as he bathed in the waterfall, then preened his feathers in the fan palm at the back of the yard. Those would have been beautiful shots: wing feathers spread like fingers, beak combing through chest plumage. But maybe part of that grooming ritual was wound care. That’s when the thought occurred to me: was he alone because Kingbirds disperse after nesting? Or was he alone because he was injured?

He appeared strong, so I’m hoping that he’s recovering and will be ready to fly with his mates to Southern Mexico and Central America in October.


Wound under the left wing


Watching for insects from his perch above the pool at the top of the waterfall



  1. I’ve caught a few sea-run cutthroat in Puget Sound with healed wounds. One had an obvious U-shaped bite mark right in the middle of his body. In my book, those are the really special animals. They cheated death and survived. Remember, chicks dig scars!


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