Nest-building Western Kingbird

Yesterday morning we photographed an industrious female Western Kingbird as she worked at constructing her nest.  In this species the sexes are similar but only the female builds the nest.  The male hung around nearby as he watched over the laborious construction process and offered his mate encouragement (that was good of him, don’t you think?).


western kingbird 7716 ron dudley

 1/3200, f/5.6, ISO 800, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

The nest was in the sagebrush at the left in the frame.  It was difficult to catch her in flight in good light with nesting material because she was usually either shaded by the sagebrush when I could get her in focus or she came into the nest with her back to me.  This shot worked out because she hovered very briefly in the sun before turning into the nest.  We’re always very careful about the potential for nesting disturbance (and we never disclose nesting sites) but these birds are acclimated to vehicles and in the time we spent with them her work was never interrupted.



western kingbird 7816 ron dudley

  1/5000, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM + 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

I had to chuckle because the male acted almost like a work supervisor.  He spent much of his time on this perch very close to the nest as the female worked her cute little tail off.  Usually he simply observed but once when the female flew very close to him he…



western kingbird 7809 ron dudley

 1/5000, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM + 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

spread his wings and chittered away at her in apparent encouragement.



western kingbird 7875 ron dudley

 1/2500, f/7.1, ISO 640, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

Here you see the nest at the bottom of the frame.  The female would fly in with the nesting material, arrange it to her liking and then “shmoosh” it into place as she adjusted and rotated her body in the nest cup.  That behavior was appealing to watch but very difficult to photograph from my vantage point.  Then she would leave the nest explosively for her next load of nesting material.

Western Kingbirds have an orange-red crown patch that many folks are unaware of and is not often seen but I noticed it a couple of times and was able to get this single, relatively sharp shot where it could be seen as she left the nest.

Our photography session yesterday morning was particularly enjoyable because we were shooting with our new friend and photographer Wade Haskell.  It was Wade who introduced us to the wild horse herd in the west desert that I posted about last month.  Good times!


13 comments to Nest-building Western Kingbird

  • Betsy Livingstone

    Hi Ron, outstanding set of photos as always, along with fascinating information as usual! I found your 2012 post on the kingbird and the “holy grail” of photographing the red crown, also fabulous. What I’m wondering about is the purpose of that red patch. Apparently the bird deliberately parts the feathers on either side and can even raise the red feathers (“like a tiny mohawk haircut,” I think you wrote) – might it be a warning of some kind? These birds are already a mated pair so it wouldn’t breeding behavior. Do both sexes have the red crown patch? My books don’t have any information about this.

    • Betsy, If I remember correctly they most often show the patch to other kingbirds (or any bird) they feel threatened by or aggressive toward. Yes, both sexes have the patch.

  • Jane Chesebrough

    I like that nice little snip of red on the top of his head, something that I had forgotten about so I know that I have seen this one sometime in the past.Quite the commentary, Ron, it had me smiling.

  • Susan Stone

    This is a wonderful series of photos. I love the first photo (what a pose!) and had to laugh when I saw the one of the male in essentially the same pose. This post is perfect timing: this morning we got to watch a Western King Bird hovering and playing in the wind. It was moving too much for me to get any shots with my point & shoot, but that bird was great fun to watch. I think your photos have captured their personalities beautifully.

  • Your descriptions add so much to the shots. I really liked the bit about her rolling in the next and him “attending” the building. 😀

  • Oh my. Oh my oh my.
    These are absolutely delightful. And your commentary has made me smile too (nearly as much as the feathered enchantment). Love the supervisor, and the red speed stripe on that industrious head. Megathanks.

  • Patty Chadwick

    These are wonderful shots! The birds are so graceful and the comments about the behaviors are fun to read…and almost like being there….I ‘m glad you and Wade met and get to shoot together…and very grateful to him for setting you up with the wild horses….I LOVe those images!

  • It looks like everybody was having a good time – you and your wife with your new friend Wade and this industrious pair (maybe the female told him he’d be better at encouragement than hands-on assistance!) These are lovely, joyous pictures. Thanks!

  • Charlotte Norton

    Wonderful shots Ron and how great to be able to see this behavior. I never knew that they had a crown patch. Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful shots!