Sharie & David Krughoff
Eastern kingbirds nest throughout most of Saskatchewan. They winter in South America in large flocks where they mostly eat fruit. When migrating to and from the United States and Canada they also travel in large groups. But after arriving at traditional breeding grounds their lifestyle is the complete opposite.
When nesting, eastern kingbirds are solitary creatures and feed primarily on insects. They have a strong attachment to nesting sites, returning year after year. Each pair maintains a relatively large territory that’s defended aggressively. They’ll attack crows, ravens, hawks, owls, other kingbirds, and humans! They have crowns of varying brightly coloured feathers concealed on top of their heads. When provoked these crowns are often raised and with beaks wide open they attack! Their scientific name Tyrannus tyrannus defines these formidable little tyrants.
In Saskatchewan, eastern kingbirds are routinely seen perching on fence posts or barbed wire. Sharie and I have discovered a reliable way to find their nests. Late in June or early July, when we see adults carrying insects we watch carefully. We take note of the direction in which they fly with their prey. If we’re patient, little by little the adults lead us to their nest.
If we move too quickly the parents stop feeding or hunt in a different area. This method doesn’t work with some birds. Bobolinks will sit forever holding insects destined for their young. They won’t budge as long as we’re watching them.
Please keep in mind that eastern kingbirds have an affinity for nesting near water. The native chokecherry tree in our photos was only 30 metres from Last Mountain Lake. It was at the edge of a large field of waist-high native grasses. This meadow supported an infinite supply of insects for their young. We used our Jeep as a blind and parked just close enough to use 1200mm lenses. We placed short lengths of foam pipe insulation on the top edges of our Jeep’s side windows. The windows were raised or lowered as needed to adjust the height of our cameras’ steady-rests. Foam pipe insulation can be purchased at Canadian Tire. It’s sold in 3 or 6 foot lengths and has already been precisely cut down one side.
We had such fun and the kingbirds completely ignored us. Our old Jeep TJ was fully camouflaged. We selected a neutral grey colour for our new Jeep.
When working we always wear camo hats, shirts, and pants. It’s worth the effort. This is true even when working from a vehicle. Wrangler camo cargo pants and a matching t-shirt can be purchased for under $50 at Walmart. Add an inexpensive camo cap and you’ll notice a big difference in how wildlife reacts. A cap also provides shade for your camera’s viewfinder.
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