For the Birds Radio Program: Rex the Baby Kingbird

Original Air Date: Aug. 9, 1999

Laura found herself taking care of a young Tyrannus tyrannus. date verified 3:31

Audio missing


A few days ago, one of my friends ran over a baby kingbird. The little fledgling was sitting in the middle of the road on Park Point in Duluth, and she thought it would fly up until the last second–by then, all she could do was make sure it was in the middle so her tires wouldn’t squish it. She went back and the bird was calm and quiet, but paralyzed. It had apparently been injured before she entered the scene, probably by a previous car.

I let my rehab license expire over a year ago, and normally I would have hurried this bird to the Wildlife Clinic in St. Paul, but during the overnight stay at my house it regained function in its legs, got back its sense of balance, and started eating well, and I figured it would only be a day or two before he was ready to release. The three hour trip down to the cities would be stressful, and then chances are they’d release him down there. Since I knew exactly where his parents were, it just seemed like the best choice for this bird’s well-being and even his survival for me to keep him for two days and then return him myself.

In summer, kingbirds eat enormous quantities of insects. My little guy gulped down $12.00 worth of mealworms in two days, as well as plenty of blueberries and a lot of baby bird handfeeding mix. Despite his enormous appetite, he lost weight the first day, but by the second was doing very well. Kingbird parents must work tremendously hard to keep a whole brood fed.

My little guy was calm and regal, and in keeping with this I named him Rex. Actually, I have no way of knowing whether he’s a male or a female, but since Rex sounds like a boy’s name, I’m calling him a he. I actually named him Rex more in reference to his scientific name, Tyrannus tyrannus. He’s not the least lizardly or dinosaur-like, but I like the sense of the power and feistiness that the name Tyrannosaurs Rex conjures.

The only Northland bird more pugnacious than a kingbird is a hummingbird. Kingbirds weigh only a couple of ounces, but I watched one chase a Bald Eagle over Lake Mendota in Madison, Wisconsin, one spring morning until the beleaguered raptor turned tail and flew all the way back across the lake. And many times kingbirds have divebombed me, and a few times even struck me, when I’ve been in the vicinity of their nests. They’re feisty and smart–too bad they’re not savvy enough to figure out that people who stay on a bike path aren’t going to bother them.

My little guy was neither belligerent nor wimpy with me–he held himself in the proud, erect kingbird stance while perching contentedly on my finger.

I brought Rex back to Park Point after a day. He still couldn’t fly, and several Ring-billed Gulls were eying him rudely, so I popped him back in the car to try again. But the next day he was flitting around much better. I had to make a difficult choice. Every additional day of protection was an additional day away from his parents, who would become less and less likely to remember him. Kingbirds have shorter memories than we humans–he’ll forget me in a few days, but I know I’ll never forget him.