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.
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)