Studer, Jacob Henry, 1840-1904. / Birds of North America
Plate XXXI. The kingbird, or tyrant fly-catcher. (Tyrannus [Carolinensus.) cont.], pp. 39-40
KINGBIRD, OR TYRANT FLY-CATCHER. fig ing, drying, and pluming they appear to be both gratified and amused. During the season of their sojourn, the pair are often seen moving about in company, with a rapid quivering of the wings, and a continued tremulous shrieking twitter. Their en- ergetic and amusing motions are most commonly performed in warm and fine weather, and continue, with little interruption, until toward the close of August. " One of the most remarkable traits in the character of the King- bird is the courage and affection which he displays for his mate and young; for, on his first arrival, he is rather timid, and readily dodges before the Swallow and Purple Martin. Indeed, at this season, I have seen the Spotted Sandpiper (To/anus macularius) drive away a pair of Kingbirds, because they happened to approach the premises of her nest. But he now becomes, on this important occasion, so tenacious of his rights as readily to commence the attack against all his feathered enemies, and he passes several months of the summer in a scene of almost perpetual contest, and, not overrating his hos- tile powers, he generally finds means to come off with im- punity. Eagles, Hawks, Crows, Jays, and, in short, every bird which excites his suspicion by their intentional or acci- dental approach, are attacked with skill and courage. He dives upon the heads and backs of the larger intruders, who become so annoyed and tormented as willingly to make a precipitate retreat. He pursues his foes sometimes for a mile, and at length, assured of conquest, he returns to his promi- nent watchground, again quivering his wings in gratulation, and rapidly uttering his shrill and triumphant notes. He is, therefore, the friend of the farmer, as the scourge of the pil- ferers and plunderers of his crop and barn-yard. But, that he might not be perfectly harmless, he has sometimes a pro- pensity for feeding on the valuable tenants of the bee-hive; for these he watches, and exultingly twitters at the prospect of success, as they wing their way, engaged in busy employ- ment. His quick-sighted eyes now follow them, until one, more suitable than the rest, becomes his favorite mark. This selected victim is by some farmers believed to be a drone, rather than the stinging neutral worker. The selective discern- ment of the eyes of this bird has often amused me: berries of different kinds held to my domestic Kingbird, however similar, were rejected or snatched, as they suited his instinct, with the nicest discrimination. "As the young acquire strength for their distant journey, they may be seen, in August and September, assembled together, in almost silent, greedy, and watchful parties of a dozen or more, feeding on various berries, particularly those of the sassafras and cornel, from which they sometimes drive away smaller birds, and likewise spar and chase each other as the supply diminishes. Indeed, my domestic allowed no other bird to live in peace near him; when feeding on similar food, and though lame of a wing, he often watched his opportunity for reprisal and revenge, and became so jealous, that, instead of being amused by companions, sometimes he caught hold of them with his bill, and seemed inclined to destroy them for invading his usurped privileges. "I In September, the Kingbird begins to leave the United States, and proceeds to pass the winter in tropical America. During the period of migration southward, Audubon remarks that they ly and sail though the air with great ease, at a considerable elevation; and they thus continue their silent retreat throughout the night, until about the first of October, when they are no longer to be seen within the limits of the Middle States." Wilson says: "Whatever antipathy may prevail against him for depre- dations on the drones, or, if you will, on the bees, I can assure the cultivator that this bird is greatly his friend, in destroying multitudes of insects, whose larvae prey on the har- vests of his fields, particularly his corn, fruit-trees, cucumbers, and pumpkins. Those noxious insects are the daily food of this bird, and he destroys, upon a very moderate average, some hundreds of them daily. The death of every Kingbird is therefore an actual loss to the farmer, by multiplying the num- bers of destructive insects, and encouraging the depredations of Crows, Hawks, and Eagles, who avoid as much as possible his immediate vicinity. " For myself, I must say that the Kingbird possesses no common share of my regard. I honor this little bird for his extreme affection for his young, for his contempt of danger, and unex- ampled intrepidity; for his meekness of behavior when there are no calls on his courage, a quality which, even in the hu- man race, is justly considered so noble: " In peace there's nothing so becomes a man As modest stillness and humility; But when the blast of war,' etc. But, above all, I honor and esteem this little bird for the mill- ions of ruinous vermin which he rids us of, whose depreda- tions in one season, but for the service of this and other friendly birds, would far overbalance all the produce of the bee-hive in fifty. "As a friend to this persecuted bird, and an enemy to preju- dices of every description, will the reader allow me to set this matter in a somewhat clearer and stronger light, by present- ing him with a short practical epitome of the Kingbird's history: " ' Far in the south, where vast Maragnon flows, And boundless forests unknown wilds inclose; Vine-tangled shores and suffocating woods, Parched up with heat or drowned with pouring floods; Where each extreme alternately prevails, And nature sad their ravages bewails; Lo ! high in air, above those trackless wastes, With spring's return the Kingbird hither hastes; Coasts the famed gulf, and from his height explores Its thousand streams, its long indented shores, Its plains immense, wide opening on the day, Its lakes and isles, where feathered millions play: All tempt not him; till, gazing from on high, Columbia's regions wide below him lie; There end his wanderings and his wish to roam, There lie his native woods, his fields, his home; Down, circling, he descends from azure heights, And on a full-blown sassafras alights. " ' Fatigued and silent, for a while he views His old frequented haunts, and shadows recluse; Sees brothers, comrades, every hour arrive; Hears humming round, the tenants of the hive: Love fires his breast; he wooes, and soon is blest, And in the blooming orchard builds his nest. "'Come now, ye cowards ! ye whom heaven disdains Who boast the happiest home-the richest plains; On whom, perchance, a wife, an infant's eye Hang as their hope, and on your arm rely; Yet, when the hour of danger and dismay Comes on your country, sneak in holes away, Shrink from the perils ye were bound to face, And leave those babes and country to disgrace; Come here (if such we have), ye dastard herd! And kneel in dust before this noble bird. " ' When the speckled eggs within his nest appear, Then glows affection ardent and sincere; No discord sours him when his mate he meets, But each warm heart with mutual kindness beats. For her repast he bears along the lea The bloated gadfly and the balmy bee; For her repose scours o'er th' adjacent farm, Where Hawks might dart, or lurking foes alarm: For now abroad a band of ruffians prey- The Crows, the Cuckoo, and the insidious Jay; These, in the owner's absence, all destroy, And murder every hope and every joy.
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