Kingbirds in the Cupholder

Once again this year, as in the last two, an Eastern Kingbird couple decided that the cupholder in one arm of our dock bench would make a nifty home for their brood. Out in the baking sun. No shade. In a black plastic cupholder about 5 inches deep and 4 inches across. Good idea. Eventually, there were 4 eggs in the nest.

Eastern Kingbirds’ scientific name is “tyrannus tyrannus.” That tells you all you really need to know about what happens when the birds hatch. The parents both become fierce tyrants. We let the growing family have the dock and dock bench all to themselves except when we wanted to come and go from our pontoon boat moored about 8 feet away from the nest.

There was hell to pay for our passage to and fro. This first photo shows the kingbirds’ otherwise hidden red patch flared, about to bounce off Steve’s behatted head.

We’ve both had our heads and torsos bumped and wingslapped. They even took to flying under the pontoon canopy to go after us once we were underway.  Here’s sort of the gestalt of the experience.

I tried not to think about the Alfred Hitchcock film The Birds.

The parents had four growing babies to feed and they did not look kindly on intrusions. (These photos, of course, were taken at considerable distance.) And their definition of intrusion is born of a tyrannus tyrannus approach to the world around them. An osprey flying overhead? One parent, sometimes two, would mob it. They bounced off the osprey with the same abandon as they bounced off our hats. Their aggression bears no relationship to the threat, since osprey only eat fish and we don’t eat baby birds. Cornell reports that Kingbirds will defend their nest by attacking crows, hawks, squirrels and “have been known to knock unsuspecting Blue Jays out of trees.”

We let the tyrants rule the dock and only ran the gauntlet to get our pontoon boat out into the lake.

This next photo shows the scene on a nearly 100 degree afternoon. The parent, beak agape, seemed a bit stressed. The two parents rotated responsibilities. One would stand guard while perched on the back of the bench while the other hunted for dragonflies and other tasty morsels to feed the hungry babies.

The babies unstuffed themselves from the cupholder the day before they fledged. We think they fledged early. We’re imagining it was just way too hot out there to do otherwise. Anyway, we wish them lots of Long Lake buggy meals. We especially hope they are fond of mosquitos and deer flies.

Birds of a feather flock together…and not

Gulls know how to do the flock thing for sure. Pity the next human visitors to that raft. Hopefully they came with a mop. It does make you wonder though. It’s not like someone spread a breakfast of bagel bits on the raft and hollered “come and get it.”

You hear that distinctive wail of the loon and you never figure they’d gang up or have a party. But they do. And here on Long Lake.

Then there are the true loners, like this Great Blue Heron walking slowly through the shallows looking for tasty morsels.

Apparently if the vantage point isn’t quite right, they’ll try for a better view, though.

The Eastern Kingbird is often seen hunting solo for insects. But they work in pairs to feed their young.

Kingbirds don’t look particularly menacing. But if you come near their nest before the chicks fledge, look out. How do I know? They nested again this year in the cupholder on our dock bench.

They sort of fake you out because they tolerate your presence while they sit on the eggs. But once the eggs hatch, look out. Once the eggs hatch and you’re just minding your own business quietly trying to unmoor or moor your pontoon boat’s dock lines these birds are fierce. And they don’t just fly around above and squawk menacingly. They dive bomb right at your head and aren’t satisfied until they’ve actually hit it. I thought for awhile if you didn’t talk and if you didn’t look in their direction, they’d leave me alone. They proved me wrong on both strategies. We surrendered our dock bench to them for the duration. But we weren’t willing to surrender our boat rides and so we paid the price. No injuries though. Not to us and not to the Kingbirds.

We see Flickers alone or in pairs, often pecking around in the dirt looking for bugs and other protein.

This guy was just resting a bit, near as we could tell.

There are some birds that all Long Lakers can identify at a glance, like this Gull giving a Bald Eagle a hard time.

The Gull knew a threat, to young we assume, and went after the Eagle. There were some interesting aerobatics. At one point the Gull bounced off the Eagle, doing no apparent damage to either.

Cormorants seem to be more frequent visitors to Long Lake. We may even have a few permanent resident Cormorants this year.

Long Lakers aren’t freaking out though. Sure, Cormorants fish almost as effectively as Jeff does. But we don’t get much by way of walleye stocking these days. And besides a few Cormorants just do their bit to increase our lake’s biodiversity.

Speaking of biodiversity, please leave a comment if you recognize who this pair is. We spotted them in Ghost Bay on August 18th.

I thought they were adolescent mallards. We did have a brood of mallard chicks this year. But these upper bills have an overlapping point at the end, more like a merganser and unlike a mallard. If they are mergansers, maybe in their eclipse plumage, they must have forgotten to check the calendar. Plus they must have lost their GPS because we should be seeing Common Mergansers only briefly in the early spring or late fall. Please leave a comment if you recognize this pair.

We’re getting into the migration season again on the lake. It’s such a fun season and we’re fortunate that so many species decide to land and spend time on our lake. Actually, though, I must betray my biologically incorrect bias and confess that if the Canada Geese would just keep flying I’d be fine with that.

Long Lake’s Bird Nursery

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This is the bench on the end of our dock. You may wonder why that bird, an Eastern Kingbird, is squashing herself (the herself is the hint) down so low on the armrest.

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If that doesn’t beat all. She’s nesting in one of our cupholders! Actually, though it’s a bit cramped for a bird that’s between 7.5 and 9 inches long, maybe she’s a trendsetter. It’s sturdy. As long as she stays put it probably won’t get waterlogged. I’m guessing it holds the heat quite nicely. And it’s definitely not going to get blown away in the wind.

She’s been very tolerant of our comings and goings. We have tried not to disturb her. We aren’t, for example, sitting on the bench. She has dibs on the bench for the duration. But our pontoon boat is moored to the other side of the dock and we’re not abandoning our boat to suit this Kingbird, or ahem, Queenbird.

She flew off for a bug dinner, no doubt, and Steve was able to peek into the nest.

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Well, I’ll be. And since this photo was taken, a fourth egg has been added to the clutch. The average clutch size is 2-5 eggs. Incubation is 14-17 days. And the time from hatch to fledge is 16-17 days. We’re in it for the long haul and just hope this spot isn’t too exposed to predators once the chicks hatch.

We think that this Eastern Phoebe has found a much better nesting place than the Kingbird. Phoebe is under our side porch overhang, atop a gutter drainpipe, with the chimney at her back.

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Our Phoebe is quite the graceful one, shown here working on her nest. We’ve also watched this flycatcher in prey mode. The Force is strong with this one! She hits her target for sure. And quick.

Even Martha Stewart would be proud of this creation. The moss and other greenery is the perfect touch.

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