The Seldom Seen Red Crown Patch Of The Western Kingbird

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.

 

western kingbird 8157 ron dudley

 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). 

 

 

western kingbird 8253 ron dudley

  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.

 

 

western kingbird 8253 big crop ron dudley

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.

Ron

 

 

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Some Williamson’s Sapsucker Behavior

In early July I photographed a mated pair of Williamson’s Sapsuckers in Clark County, Idaho.  As usual I was fascinated by their behaviors.

 

williamson's sapsucker 2032 big crop ron dudley

 1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

This is the male at the nest-tree, a dead and leaning aspen.  Like many (though not all) birds, woodpeckers have both sideways monocular vision and forward binocular vision so I often find it difficult to determine what direction they’re actually looking.  Is this male looking at me or at something higher up on the tree?  Or perhaps something to its left that I’m unaware of?

 

 

williamson's sapsucker 2032 ron dudley

 1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

A different crop of the same image reveals the answer – he’s concentrating on his nest hole directly above him.  These birds were busy feeding ants to chicks in the nest and they would nearly always land just below the nest for a few moments before flying a little further up to the actual entrance.  Usually one parent was in the nest as the other bird approached with a bill full of ants.

 

 

williamson's sapsucker 2033 ron dudley

 1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

This is the shot I worked hard to get but seldom achieved – the take-off straight up (or steeper since the tree leans in the direction of the hole) toward the nest.  The timing is critical for this incredibly fast action and I can’t tell you how many shots I wasted by firing a burst when I thought the bird might take off and it didn’t.  After a while I began to suspect that they were just playing with me and delighting in my frustrations…

But this time it worked and two shots later in the burst…

 

 

williamson's sapsucker 2035 ron dudley

 1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

 the bird had landed at the hole and folded its wings.  The lighting on his face isn’t ideal but I decided to include the shot anyway.

 

 

williamson's sapsucker 2038 ron dudley

 1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

A moment later the female stuck her head out of the nest and then flew off for more ants.  Here her bill contains wood chips from the nest.

When I began this post my intention was to include only the third image because I think it’s the best of the bunch but as is often the case the post evolved as I worked on it.  I like to tell behavioral stories as well as showcase some of my images so in the end I decided to go this route.

Ron

Note:  I was also (one time only) able to capture the female as she took off toward the nest-hole from lower down on the tree.  If you missed that post and have the interest, here’s the link

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