Many are surprised to learn that the Western Kingbird (both sexes) has a reddish-orange crown patch that bisects the top center of its head. The patch is usually kept concealed but occasionally they will quickly flash the patch at unpredictable moments, especially when other birds invade their territory. I’ve featured the crown patch on my blog previously but earlier this summer I had my best look at it so I thought I’d revisit the subject this morning.
1/2500, f/8, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM, canvas added for composition, not baited, set up or called in
Usually when the patch is flashed it happens so quickly that most folks don’t notice it but photographs can capture the moment in time. This bird was taking off from the vicinity of its nest on Antelope Island and I didn’t even know that the patch was visible until I processed the image. When the head is at an angle good for photography (like this, with the eye clearly visible) the view of the patch is usually at an angle that doesn’t show it particularly well.
- A note to photographers: Sharp-eyed observers may notice that the tips of the wing primaries appear cut off and straight-edged instead of rounded as one might expect. This effect can be caused when the fast-moving wing tips are photographed at shutter speeds insufficient to freeze the motion. The movement of the feather tips while the shutter is open creates a straight line that is sometimes reminiscent of sloppy or heavy-handed processing (particularly when canvas is added or cloning is done). It’s an effect that doesn’t appeal to me, even when it’s not due to sloppy processing (and another one of the reasons that I usually use relatively fast shutter speeds for birds).
1/4000, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in
But if the bird tips its head down at just the right moment it’s possible that the patch may be more clearly seen. This kingbird did just that as it looked down at its mate on the nest. Usually when I’ve seen this behavior it’s a reaction to another bird (often another kingbird) flying in close but this time my concentration was through my viewfinder and I didn’t see another bird.
A very large crop of the same image reveals more detail. The red color is deeply buried in the crown feathers and cannot be seen (not even a hint of it) unless those feathers are parted.
In the past eight years I’ve probably photographed the patch about a half-dozen times but every time I see one revealed it still grabs my attention.