Vol. 2, No. 4 – The Kingbird

Kingbird of Birds Illustrated by Color Photography, 1897

Kingbird of Birds Illustrated by Color Photography, 1897

From col. F. M. Woodruff. Copyrighted by
Nature Study Pub. Co., 1897, Chicago.



T is somewhat strange that there should be little unity of opinion concerning a bird as well known as is this charming fellow, who has at least one quality which we all admire—courage. We will quote a few of the opinions of well-known observers as to whether his other characteristics are admirable, and let the reader form his own conclusion.

John Burroughs says of him: “The exquisite of the family, and the braggart of the orchard, is the Kingbird, a bully that loves to strip the feathers off its more timid neighbors like the Bluebird, that feeds on the stingless bees of the hive, the drones, and earns the reputation of great boldness by teasing large hawks, while it gives a wide berth to the little ones.” Decidedly, this classifies him with the English Sparrow. But we will hear Dr. Brewer: “The name, Kingbird, is given it on the supposition that it is superior to all other birds in the reckless courage with which it will maintain an unequal warfare. My own observations lead me to the conclusion that writers have somewhat exaggerated the quarrelsome disposition of this bird. I have never, or very rarely, known it to molest or attack any other birds than those which its own instinct prompts it to drive away in self-defense, such as Hawks, Owls, Eagles, Crows, Jays, Cuckoos, and Grackles.” That Dr. Coues is a friend of the Kingbird, his language amply proves: “The Kingbird is not quarrelsome—simply very lively. He is the very picture of dash and daring in defending his home, and when he is teaching his youngsters how to fly. He is one of the best of neighbors, and a brave soldier. An officer of the guild of Sky Sweepers, also a Ground Gleaner and Tree Trapper killing robber-flies, ants, beetles, and rose-bugs. A good friend to horses and cattle, because he kills the terrible gadflies. Eats a little fruit, but chiefly wild varieties, and only now and then a bee.” If you now have any difficulty in making up your verdict, we will present the testimony of one other witness, who is, we think, an original observer, as well as a delightful writer, Bradford Torrey. He was in the country. “Almost, I could have believed myself in Eden,” he says. “But, alas, even the birds themselves were long since shut out of that garden of innocence, and as I started back toward the village a Crow went hurrying past me, with a Kingbird in hot pursuit. The latter was more fortunate than usual, or more plucky, actually alighting on the Crow’s back, and riding for some distance. I could not distinguish his motions—he was too far away for that—but I wished him joy of his victory, and grace to improve it to the full. For it is scandalous that a bird of the Crow’s cloth should be a thief; and so, although I reckon him among my friends—in truth, because I do so—I am always able to take it patiently when I see him chastised for his fault.”

The Kingbird is a common bird in Eastern United States, but is rare west of the Rocky Mountains. It is perhaps better known by the name of Beebird or Bee-martin. The nest is placed in an orchard or garden, or by the roadside, on a horizontal bough or in the fork at a moderate height; sometimes in the top of the tallest trees along streams. It is bulky, ragged, and loose, but well capped and brimmed, consisting of twigs, grasses, rootlets, bits of vegetable down, and wool firmly matted together, and lined with feathers, hair, etc.

Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus) by Margaret Sloan

Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus) by Margaret Sloan


You think, my young friends, because I am called Kingbird I should be large and fine looking.

Well, when you come to read about Kings in your history-book you will find that size has nothing to do with Kingliness. I have heard, indeed, that some of them were very puny little fellows, in mind as well as in body.

If it is courage that makes a king then I have the right to be called Kingbird. They say I have a reckless sort of courage, because I attack birds a great deal larger than myself.

I would not call it courage to attack anything smaller than myself, would you? A big man finds it easy to shoot a little bird in the air; and a big boy does not need to be brave to kill or cripple some poor little animal that crosses his path. He only needs to be a coward to do that!

I only attack my enemies,—the Hawks, Owls, Eagles, Crows, Jays, and Cuckoos. They would destroy my young family if I did not drive them away. Mr. Crow especially is a great thief. When my mate is on her nest I keep a sharp lookout, and when one of my enemies approaches I give a shrill cry, rise in the air, and down I pounce on his back; I do this more than once, and how I make the feathers fly!

The little hawks and crows I never attack, and yet they call me a bully. Sometimes I do go for a Song-bird or a Robin, but only when they come too near my nest. People wonder why I never attack the cunning Catbird. I’ll never tell them, you may be sure!

To what family do I belong? To a large family called Flycatchers. Because some Kings are tyrants I suppose, they call me the Tyrant Flycatcher. Look for me next summer on top of a wire fence or dead twig of a tree, and watch me, every few minutes, dash into the air, seize a passing insect, and then fly back to the same perch again.

Any other names? Yes, some folks call me the Bee Bird or Bee Martin. Once in awhile I change my diet and do snap up a bee! but it is always a drone, not a honey-bee. Some ill-natured people say I choose the drones because they can’t sting, and not because they are tramp bees and will not work.

Sing? Yes, when my mate is on her nest I please her with a soft pretty song, at other times my call-note is a piercing Kyrie-K-y-rie! I live with you only in the summer. When September comes I fly away to a warmer climate.


KINGBIRD.Tyrannus tyrannus.

Range—North America north to New Brunswick and Manitoba; rare west of the Rocky Mountains; winters in Central and South America.

Nest—Compact and symmetrical, of weed-stocks, grasses, and moss, lined with plant down, fine grasses, and rootlets, generally at the end of a branch fifteen to twenty-five feet from the ground.

Eggs—Three to five, white, spotted with umber.

Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus) by Margaret Sloan Eating

Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus) Eating by Margaret Sloan

Lee’s Addition:

Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises! For God is the King of all the earth; Sing praises with understanding. (Psalms 47:6-7 NKJV)

The Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus) is a large tyrant flycatcher native to North America that are part of the Tyrannidae – Tyrant Flycatchers Family. There are 421 species assigned to that family, at present. Eleven of those are Kingbirds.

Adults are grey-black on the upperparts with light underparts; they have a long black tail with a white end and long pointed wings. They have a red patch on their crown, seldom seen. They are of average size for a kingbird, at 7.5–9 in (19–23 cm), 13–15 in (33–38 cm) across the wings and weighing 1.2-1.9 oz (33-55 g).

The call is a high-pitched, buzzing and unmusical chirp, frequently compared to an electric fence.

Eastern Kingbird call from xeno-canto.

An Eastern Kingbird's nest and eggs.

Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus) Nest ©WikiC

Their breeding habitat is open areas across North America. They make a sturdy cup nest in a tree or shrub, sometimes on top of a stump or pole. These birds aggressively defend their territory, even against much larger birds.

These birds migrate in flocks to South America. There is one European record, from Ireland in October 2012.

They wait on an open perch and fly out to catch insects in flight, sometimes hovering to pick food off vegetation. They also eat berries and fruit, mainly in their wintering areas.

Some eastern kingbirds place their nests in the open while others hide nests very well. Eastern kingbirds in Southern British Columbia can nest in open fields; in shrubs over open water; high in tall trees and even in the tops of small stumps. Both male and female participate in nest defense, but females may stay on well-hidden nests longer than females with open nests who may leave nests earlier to chase away predators. Those pairs nesting in the open may be able to see predators coming earlier and rely on aggressive behavior to protect their young.

They can recognize and remove cowbird eggs from their nests. Still, blue jays, American crows, squirrels, and tree-climbing snakes are on occasion nest predators. American kestrels are probable predators of adults.

For the LORD is the great God, And the great King above all gods. In His hand are the deep places of the earth; The heights of the hills are His also. The sea is His, for He made it; And His hands formed the dry land. Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker. (Psalms 95:3-6 NKJV)

There are 12 other Kingbirds in the Tyrannus genus.


Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited

The above article is an article in the monthly serial for October 1897 “designed to promote Knowledge of Bird-Live.” These include Color Photography, as they call them, today they are drawings. There are at least three Volumes that have been digitized by Project Gutenberg.

To see the whole series of – Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited


(Information from Wikipedia and other internet sources)

Next Article – John James Audubon

The Previous Article – The Slate-Colored Junco


ABC’s of the Gospel


Eastern Kingbird – All About Birds

Eastern Kingbird – All About Birds

SIMILAR BIRDS – From All About Birds

Eastern Kingbird – Wikipedia


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