The western kingbird, a robin-sized “flycatcher,” is an easy bird to spot. They perch openly on a tree branch, utility pole, fence, telephone wire, even your property boundary T-post marker. From these perches, they target their primary food source, insects.

They are fleet on the wing, performing acrobatic turns to capture insects mid-air. They often hover like a helicopter before dropping to the ground for their prize, returning repeatedly to the same perch.

In spring and early summer months, they will rejoice you with their early morning song, and bursts of loud, melodious chatter. Predators beware, the kingbird aggressively defends its nest against snakes, squirrels, much larger birds such as hawks, and people.

Building a nest and hatching chicks is not an easy task. Ask the female western kingbird that made a nest in the same tree I cited in my article on the white-breasted nuthatch.

Over a period of several days, and with great anticipation, I observed this female construct her nest. The nest site was only 9-10 feet off the ground, at the end of a lone branch, and fairly exposed. Must be the first nest for this female, I suspected; kingbirds normally build their nests about 20-30 feet off the ground.

When the nest was finally finished, I saw that it included a couple strips of blue tarp shreds that probably came from my back yard, a block away. After the female began brooding, her attentive mate stood guard on an overhanging branch, sputtering vociferously at anyone who approached.

Images of unobstructed, almost eye level photo opportunities floated before my mind’s eye. I couldn’t wait for the eggs to hatch.

Days went by. Longer than what the birds guides predict. Still no hatchlings. And then, disaster struck.

I came by one morning with hopes of seeing chicks, but there was no activity in the tree. I searched with my binoculars. To my astonishment, the nest was gone. “Oh my gosh, what happened?” I whispered to myself as I hastily approached the tree.

Part of the nest was on the ground. No eggs or shells were to be seen. Another home invasion had occurred…

My story does have a happy ending, however. In my very own front yard, another kingbird pair was successful with their homemaking efforts. Over several weeks, I had heard, but could never see their activity up high, deep in the canopy of an oak.

By chance, I was present the morning three chicks fledged. What an exciting moment that was, both for me and for the birds. The adults, insects in their beaks, lured the chicks far out on a branch. They fed them one by one, further and further from the nest.

It was time for the fledglings to try their wings, and I captured the moment of their first flight. While saddened by one kingbird’s failure, I was enthralled to witness, and photograph, this momentous occasion of another bird’s success.

Keep birding,
Robert Groos

Robert Groos is a published photographer and keen observer of nature who lives in Yosemite Lakes Park. He shares some of his outstanding images of our local feathered friends along with some tidbits of interesting facts about each. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do. 

Previous posts:
Acorn Woodpecker 
Oak Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
California Quail
Bald Eagle