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Birds of the Western Slope Nov. 8, 2017

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Photo by Bill Schmoker© Eastern kingbird, Larimer County.

Eastern Kingbird

It's late September 2010 and it's clouding up again. I hope the rain holds off a while. I've come down Slaughter Grade from Cedaredge to drive on Ward Creek Road. It follows the valley floor, and though it parallels Highway 65, it is a totally different world: It is the road less-traveled. I drive slowly because there's usually something interesting to see: marmots, deer, squirrels, plants in various seasons, or birds.

The big, old cottonwood trees are likely to harbor birds, so I keep close watch ... sparrows and finches ... plenty of cowbirds too. Crows and ravens are in the fields. There's a robin, and there's a dark bird, a bit smaller than the robin. It's perched in a cottonwood on the right side of the road. Now it flies out, then back to the perch. Flycatcher? That's their usual method ... the "perch-snatch-perch" technique. Out it goes again, perches in the willows on the left side of the road. It's a dark color. I recall the black Phoebe that I knew back in the Nevada years. Just about anything is possible, but it would be out of its range. And the shape isn't quite right. My bird has a slim silhouette and broader shoulders. Kingbird?

But now my bird flies again ... look at that white terminal band on the tail! It lands in the cottonwood again and is facing me this time. The white terminal tail band is unmistakable! A recollection comes to mind: our western kingbird has a white-margin tail, but the eastern one has a white terminal band. I haven't seen the eastern one often, in fact, rarely! Maybe?

I go even slower, until I'm stopped. No cars coming, for now. But my bird seems distressed, the tail flares out and it looks tense. Bad luck! My bird flies upslope, and out of sight. So I'll take a moment to check Sibley's Guide to Birds. The black phoebe is not only out of range, but the black goes from the head down into the breast. The eastern kingbird's crown is black, but the chin, breast and belly are all white ... that fits my bird! And the range map shows the eastern summering throughout most of the western states. So! My bird is an eastern kingbird!

This group of aggressive birds is in the genus Tyrannus meaning, of course, tyrant, king, or despot. But now I see a car coming behind me, time to move on. But what a wonderful sighting this was!

Read more from:
Surface Creek
Birds of the Western Slope, Evelyn Horn
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