The Tyrant

The king of the Tyrant flycatchers, Tyrannus tyrannus, has earned his name for his fierce attacks on predators that are many times his size.

Otherwise called the eastern kingbird, he lives in open areas, eats flying insects and is very aggressive.  Not only does he defend his nest from other kingbirds but he relentlessly attacks blue jays, crows and hawks who wander into his territory — even to the point of riding on the back of a hawk so he can peck its head. 

Don’t believe it?  Check out this story and photo from Illinois and this photo sequence on Flickr by Arlene Koziol.

After you’ve seen the Illinois photo you might wonder why the top of the kingbird’s head looks orange-red.  Well, he’s excited.  Eastern kingbirds have a splash of orange-red feathers on the crown of their heads that’s normally hidden.  When they’re excited they raise their head feathers and we all see red.

Woe be to the red-tailed hawk who gets in the tyrant’s way!

(photo by Steve Gosser)

5 thoughts on “The Tyrant

  1. Wow!!! What a gutsy little bird and what fantastic photos! I’ve seen smaller birds try to drive away the red-tailed hawks in my neighborhood, but never anything this dramatic, never knew any smaller bird would go after them so aggressively. You would think the hawks would learn to run the other way when they see those red feathers raised. Thanks again, Kate, for opening our eyes to the world around us.

  2. This is just the most incredible & story & pictures of this bird on top of that huge one. Looks like a cartoon if you didn’t know it was real. I feel like the little guy too with the stories of the orange water & the drilling & the fracking. We all have to fight off the big guys somehow. Watched the program on the water; some facts & some hogwash (pardon the pun)!!!

  3. That is an amazing pic! Seeing is believing! Thanks Kate for sharing the pic and info!

    Not only do Eastern Kingbirds attack other birds in their territory, I can confirm that they go after humans too!

    There was a kingbird nest every summer in a smallish tree in the middle of the small parking lot in a large meadow where I worked. When going to and from our cars, the kingbird would attack, coming very close to our heads, all the while scolding loudly!

    We all learned to park as far from the nest as possible and cover our heads!

  4. Thanks for the interesting story with the picture of a kingbird riding on a red-tail hawk. They are gutsy little birds. I was almost attacked out at the gravel pond near Slippery Rock and Plain Grove. When I parked off the dirt road behind the gravel piles I pulled my scope out of my car and was setting it up to check for sandpipers, etc. and I did notice 2 kingbirds on this large red pipe, but paid no attention. Just about the time I got my scope focused on the edge of the water I had these 2 kingbirds scolding/chipping and zooming over my head then when I folded the scope up again and was putting it back in the car, they settled back on the pipe but kept flitting up and down on it, then up in the air again like I was to “be aware” they would not rest til’ I was in my car.
    At Yellow Creek with Margaret and Lee and a few other folk we were able to see the little reddish-orange blotch on the top of a kingbird perched on top of a boat tarp looking through Lee or Margaret’s scope. Unique!!

  5. A completly fearless little songbird who isnt afraid of hawks or crows since he is willing to take them all on thats one brave little bird

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