Monday, July 8, 2013

May 2013: KINGbird and KINGfisher humbled by COMMON grackle!

I’m a great fan of both kingbirds and kingfishers. The former flies over the ponds and bays I watch and nabs insects. It often rests on a perch at eye level with me, well, slightly higher, after all, it is a king.

But on May 26 I did get a photo of it lower to the pond.

Those who gave birds their scientific names did not mince matters, crowning the kingbird with the name Tyrannus tyrannus. Worse than a king, or better from its point of view, this bird is a tyrant.

So I watched it fly off its perch and catch insects, always failing to get an adequate video of it, but in the short clip below you can get a sense of its hauteur. The call you hear in the video is not made by the kingbird who is rather quiet as kings go.

That sideways glance strikes me as a kingly gesture and I often see the kingbird pose like that. Here is a photo I took in June as I was in a kayak and a kingbird reigned along a section of South Bay.

Back to the May video: as you can see, I was sitting in a perfect spot to get more and perhaps more dramatic video but my camcorder wasn’t ready when the king was deposed. A bird known in Latin as Quiscalus quiscula, further humbled with the everyday name of “common grackle” 

flew almost on top of the kingbird and drove it from its perch and any perch in the near vicinity. The kingbird departed silently. The common grackle, well, it grackled, from a high perch looking not so common.

And the common grackle was not finished. A kingfisher was also working the pond. Just as the kingbird rules the insects, the kingfisher holds sway over fish. I didn’t get a photo of the kingfisher working the pond that day but the over the years I have. Here is my best photo which I took on September 1, 2011:

Here is a video I took at a small pond at our land in 2002, that era of just adequate camcorders and editing software, that captures the noisy flight of the bird and its aggressive demeanor.

I am sure I have a video of a kingfisher diving into the Lost Swamp Pond but I haven’t found it yet. One was diving into the pond on May 26 but just too far away to get a good video. 

Then I saw the kingfisher fly off a tall tree angling lower over the pond. At the same time the common grackle that had bullied the kingbird flew at the kingfisher forcing it to dive unceremoniously into the pond. Really the kingfisher seemed to bounce of the water, or pivot, because it made a rapid retreat from the lording common grackle. It all happened too quickly to take a video of that.

Why did the grackle go to all that trouble?

Like the kingbird, the grackle feasts on the insects spawned by and attracted to the pond. But grackles generally pick them off logs or off they perch on logs and sticks floating or leaning low over the water and pick the bugs they can reach off the water.

They also fly into trees a pick the bugs off the leaves. They don’t flutter up and pick insects out of the air. 

The grackle doesn’t dive in the water so it should have no bone to pick with a kingfisher. There were other grackles around the pond. I saw them perched high on a dead tree. The same one kingfishers use but on lower branches.

I’ve never noticed birds competing for perches and there were plenty of dead trees in and around the pond and dead tree branches and pointed remnants of trunks around the pond. 

So maybe the grackle was showing off for the other grackles making it a tough day for kings in the Lost Swamp Pond.

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