the dapper, infamous, "Bee Martin" (aka eastern kingbird)
luxuriates in a bed of rough-leaf dogwood berries
(photo by stephen "salty" saltamachia)
like a bird
on a wire
like a drunk
in a midnight choir
i have tried
in my way
to be free
-- leonard cohen
oh yeah..........wanna talk about a badass lil' bird? then let's have a look at the eastern kingbird.......it belongs to the bird genus Tyrannus, which really says it all...... it is an absolute tyrant of the airwaves........in his 1938 book, The Bird Life of Louisiana, harry oberholser writes, "The Kingbird is so called because of its habit of attacking and driving away all other birds from the vicinity of its nest, particularly the larger species like hawks and crows . . . so vicious is it in its attacks on even large birds that they seldom stay to fight it out, but escape as rapidly as possible."
back in the day, we called them "bee martins," a nickname that supposedly arose from their propensity to take honeybees buzzing in and out of bee hives..............i've never seen that happen; but i have on many occasions witnessed their attacks on birds..........poor purple martins, for example........too bad that they often choose nesting sites out in the open country -- in kingbird territory -- for kingbirds give them no quarter. i've seen bee martins dive atop flying purple martins, grabbing them by the scruff of the neck and occasionally riding them all the way down to the ground (a hated place for a purple martin).......and as oberholser alluded above, slow-moving crows and hawks are no match for the aerial mastery of the kingbird. should these big boys cross into kingbird airspace or nest space, the bee martins dive on them and peck their poor heads for as long as they deem necessary; sometimes seemingly stretching the attacks out to the point of personal amusement.
perhaps owing to its aggressive nature, the eastern kingbird is the only bird i know of that nests pretty much where it dam well pleases........when it comes to nesting -- or even to life in general -- most birds are into concealment..........not so for the bee martin........it's been noted nesting very high or quite low in forest edges, orchards, young open-grown live oaks in front yards, even on fence rails!
several years ago, i noted eastern kingbirds and western kingbirds nesting together around a campground near emporia, kansas........man, would i have loved to hang around and see how they worked that arrangement out..............................................
here in louisiana, eastern kingbirds are pretty common -- especially around pastures, marshes, prairies, parks, and other open areas -- during the spring/summer nesting season.....often, observers hear their raucous "Kree!Kree!Kreep!" screams well before spotting them. eastern kingbirds have carved out a massive breeding range here in north america, stretching from northern british columbia and ontario, to the maritime provinces, and southward through the high plains, great plains, and all of the eastern u.s.
during the fall months, eastern kingbirds assemble into traveling flocks of various sizes, from several birds to hundreds of birds....as with many fall-migrating birds, they travel southbound in the daytime (as opposed to spring migration, when most songbirds become nocturnal migrants), gradually draining westward into gulf coastal mexico, thence due south into their winter homes in the deep interior of south america.........given the power of their flight, together with their fierce nature, my guess it that migration is a trip that they probably enjoy; as opposed to most other songbird species that tend more to slink around with visions of great peril.
all eight species of u.s. Tyrannus flycatchers are masters of aerial power and agility.........they all possess the same bill shape as well: a long but wide thing, tapering smoothly to a tiny hook at the tip......a snapping beak is what it is; and these birds will readily snap up just about any insect/arthropod that moves...even millipedes....i've even heard of eastern kingbirds plunging for minnows.....
during fall migration, however, many kingbird and other flycatcher species move from a protein-rich insect/arthropod diet to a carbohydrate-rich wild berry diet.................recently, jay huner wrote that a small flock of traveling bee martins cleaned out substantial clumps of elderberry along his driveway in central louisiana.....they also love dogwood berries (as "salty" so beautifully captured via the attached photo), virginia creeper, supplejack, viburnum, and wild grapes.
in reality, relatively few birds are "free" .................. most are so preoccupied with survival, you see........but a few, like the bee martin, do actually live the 'good life,' nesting almost wherever they please, and snatching food out of thin air whenever they or their dependents feel hungry...