A Royal Send Off

Traveling along an old dirt trail, a short distance from the James river in South Dakota, I slowly eased my car ahead on a beautiful spring day. The countryside was a mix of rolling native prarie lands and cropped fields awaiting another growing season. Off to my left was an older shelter belt somewhat past its prime, but still showing good growths of leafy and evergreen foliage.

I stopped to admire a pair of kingbirds in the canopy, then listened intently to a rising commotion on the far side of the belt. A dozen or so crows were ganging up on something in an old ash tree. They swooped down on whatever it was, but were very careful to keep a respectful distance away.

The crows quarry made its presence known, as a great horned owl lifted off a branch and wingbeat by wingbeat, rose up into the trees and flew directly towards me. Having had enough of being badgered by a swarming flock of crows, it was exiting the neighborhood.

As it swung up above my car and flew away over the trail, the nearby pair of kingbirds went into action. I had an excellent view of a split second spectacle that was about to unfold, for I was looking directly at the owl as it flew away. The kingbird twosome resembled highly nimble fighter planes coming in low and just above a lumbering but powerful bomber. One in the blink of an eye, touched down on the owl's back, giving him several sharp raps with its beak on the base of the owl's head.

In an instant, the winged predator rolled over talons up to grasp its tormentor. By then, the kingbirds were long gone, having just demonstrated why this robin-sized bird was named Kingbird. With a few raps of its bill, it ushered away a formidable predator with a Royal Kingbird send off.

STORY TIME WITH KENT OLSON A Collection of Wildlife Short Stories

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