Be-Bopping with the Birds

Ray Pope

Be-Bopping with the Birds | Anthony Gray, Ray Pope, Eastern Kingbird, Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Kingbird

This past Saturday morning came much too soon for me. I can try to go to bed early, but there doesn't seem to be enough sleep time to actually recharge my internal batteries. Anthony Gray was punctual as always and we loaded up all my bird stuff and hoped for a good day.  

I thought that I must have still been in bed and having a bad dream as I was about to learn that my parabolic microphone had a low battery. We had already gone too far to turn back and about all we could hear was traffic noise, and plenty of it.

 This is the time of the year that I call, the summer doldrums, where many of our feathered friends have finished nesting and start the molting of feathers. Our passerine species will only molt a few feathers at a time where the bird will not be rendered flightless at any given time. Some of our duck species will lose all of their flight feathers and will have to depend on cover to hide from their predators, until new feathers have sprouted.

As usual, we encountered an Eastern Phoebe at just about every bridge, large or small. This is one of the many species of birds that actually sing their names. Other "name singers" include the Northern Bob White Quail, that we encountered four different times on last weeks birding trip. Hanging out around the campgrounds at the Cedars of Lebanon State Park, it is easy to discern the song of the Eastern Wood Peewee, whose song in a soft whistled, " Pee-a-wee." I never get tired of hearing him announce his presence in the woods. I would guess that my most favorite name singer would be the Carolina Chickadee.

A few miles later, on down the road came some bird, "Be-bopping" along, as Anthony called it. With the tips of his tail feathers looking as if he had dipped them in white paint, here flew the, "bad, bad Leroy Brown" bird of the avian world. His name sounds as regal as it's attitude sounds bad. Even his scientific name spells trouble in capitol letters. The Eastern Kingbird, ( Tyrannus tyrannus ) is an insect eating machine which is found around pasture land out in the country. He is a true flycatcher and will sally forth from his perch, catch an insect and return to the same spot in which he flew from, to enjoy it's meal.

They are from seven to nine inches in length, dark grey on the upper parts and much lighter on the underparts with a black tail, except for the tip, which is white, and a red patch on the top of their head, which is seldom seen. This characteristic makes them easy to recognize, even while speeding along on the interstate. Their vocals are a high pitched buzzing and a very unmusical chirp. Breeding territories include most of North America where they build a sturdy nest in a shrub or tree, and sometimes on a post or taller pole. These nest are fiercely protected from other larger birds, even hawks. One person witnessed this aggression where a Kingbird knocked a Bluejay completely off of a tree limb, where it had ventured too close to it's nest. The Bluejay was seen to cower in the shadows, waiting for it's opportunity to get the heck out of Dodge. Pardon my French.

I believe there must have been an air show going on somewhere to the south of us. As we were checking out the rock bluffs over by the Nashville Super Speedway, looking for Northern Rough-winged Swallows, we kept hearing some strange sounding noises, and being between two bluffs, couldn't determine what direction it was coming from. Curiosity getting to us, we had to get out of the van and look sun-ward to finally see what was making such a racket. There was a red biplane making large loops and turns, going in every direction, almost at the same time. We stood and gawked for about five minutes at this stunt pilot, almost wishing that I was occupying the rear seat of the plane. With stomachs growling we headed back toward Lebanon for our lunch fix at Pekings Chinese Restaurant. For next Saturday, I have already purchased new batteries to go along with my electronic ear.

I would love to hear from you as to what's lurking about in your neighborhood and at your feeders. You can write me at, 606 Fairview Ave., Lebanon, TN, 37087, or e-mail me at,