Western Kingbirds Putting A Poor Beetle Through Hell

These photos aren’t high quality but I got a big kick out of them anyway.


A couple of days ago I photographed an adult Western Kingbird feeding two recent fledglings on Antelope Island (I’ll refer to this bird as a male though I don’t know its sex). After catching an insect he would usually land on one of several wire cages protecting small trees and “work over” the bug a bit, presumably to kill or immobilize it before offering it to one of the youngsters. That’s what he’s beginning to do here to a fairly large black beetle.

But the beetle had other plans…



and somehow made its escape. I don’t know if the beetle jumped out of his bill or the bill manipulations of the adult threw it to the side (or a combination of both) but either way it was looking like this meal wasn’t going to happen.

But the reflexes, speed and athleticism of birds are hard to believe. Here the kingbird has already reacted to the loss by raising its wings and lowering its tail to an extreme position with pursuit in mind. Think about the unusual position of that spread tail. Wings are designed primarily to lift during the down-stroke but this bird has to go down fast and at a very steep angle if he has any chance at catching the beetle.

As he took off in pursuit he quickly raised his already flared tail…




and that action forced his body downward under power. I don’t know for sure if he caught it in the air or on the ground but catch it he did.

Then he fed it to one of his two offspring.



And this is that very beetle just a few seconds later being tossed into the air by one of the fledglings before becoming bird food. If it was still alive that poor bug but must have thought it was on a never-ending roller coaster.

Normally I’d be reluctant to post images like some of these with so many obvious “issues” but I enjoyed the behaviors enough that I kept coming back to them so I thought some of my readers might get a kick out of them too.





36 comments to Western Kingbirds Putting A Poor Beetle Through Hell

  • That poor beetle.
    And Pfft to always and never.
    Hooray for behavioural series. And continuing jealousy about birds manoeuverability. And wings. Their diet? Not so much.

  • A wonderful series, Ron! It seems the flycatchers are always doing something interesting. Capturing such things with a camera – that’s special!

  • Jack Cowan

    Issues? Ron that photo of the bird diving for the beetle is impressive. You and I both know you can’t take photos of bird behavior and end up with technically perfect photos, short of manipulating the heck out of the image, and then you don’t have a real image. I really enjoyed the whole series. I had no idea bird tossed their prey into the air before swallowing it.

  • Alice Beckcom

    That poor bug!!! There was no way it was not going to become lunch/snack. I did not know that some birds play with their prey, which seems kind of cruel. However, I do understand that this is nature.

    The photo with the King Bird diving with immense power is very impressive. This is a great series. Thank you, Ron.

  • Betty Sturdevant

    Reading all the comments is as much fun as reading your comments. Great Saturday morning entertainment.

  • Susan Stone

    Issues? What issues? I think these photos are just fine. They made me laugh, and also check out to make sure that it wasn’t a darkling beetle (stink beetle). I’d hate to swallow one of those and then start belching…

  • Joanne OBrien

    Very enjoyable and informative series of pictures today! Thanks.

  • Patty Chadwick

    As you know by now, my sympathy is often with the prey even though I want predator to find food and survive…so I can’t help feeling pretty darned sorry for that poor beetle…

  • Laura Culley

    Yeah, the behavioral images/series are the absolute best (well, except for all your other images–LOL!). I just love it when you post a slice-of-life series and this one is spectacular! You’ve also captured my other favorite thing–parenting the young. They use age- and developmental-appropriate challenges to teach the kids how to be a Western Kingbird (in this case) one step at a time. I just love watching/seeing that. SUPER!
    There was an incident at the Cornell Redtail Hawk nest cam during the first year it was live streamed. Ezra brought a live vole (probably…could have been a mouse) to the nest when the nestlings were not that far from fledging. With the nestlings watching with interest (but not chasing), the mouse ran across the nest and leaped over the edge (I’m outta here!). Ezra reacted immediately and took off, hot on its tail. Since the camera didn’t go there, we don’t know whether he re-caught it or not, but my money is on Ezra’s successful swan dive! I figure the chances of Ezra catching it mid air on the way down is in the 85% range, but as usual, I can ALWAYS be wrong (that’s one of the almost-never times I’ll use the word “always!”).

    • I try to avoid using “always” too, Laura. It doesn’t leave any wiggle room… 🙂

      • Laura Culley

        Never is dangerous, too! I found that I ended up doing all those things I said I’d never do…that’s how I ended up in NY!! EEEK! I said I’d never live there and VI-ola! There I was. That’s a dangerous word. LOL!

  • Marty K

    The song goes, “Sometimes you’re the windshield; sometimes you’re the bug,” but in this case it should be, “Sometimes you’re the Kingbird, etc.” I’ve watched cats, dogs, rodents, and reptiles “play” with their food, but I’ve never seen birds do it. Great behavioral series — I especially like the second shot with the upstretched wings and lowered, fanned tail.

  • Judy Eberspaecher

    I was thinking the same as Judy but I knew you always know what you are talking about. Who am I to argue! Next frame proved you were right.
    This whole series just teaches us how important it is for us to take time, lots of time, to observe the fine details. There is so much to learn and we all learn from your wonderful photographs and dedication. Thanks again, Ron.

    • Thanks, Judy, Sad to say I DON’T “always know what I’m talking about”. I try to be accurate but mistakes do creep in. I hate it when I do that on such a public forum as my blog…

  • April Olson

    Fun to watch. I wonder if they eat the big beetles that have a stinky defense?

  • Jean Haley

    Poor bug. Wasn’t his day..Great photos Ron!

  • Judy Gusick

    Great series capture Ron! 🙂 The 1st picture looks like anything BUT a Western King Bird with the coloring of it’s back and wings in that particular light………. Glad you decided to share the sequence showing how the bird managed to react and retrieve the meal:)