Western Kingbird, Preening On An Overcast Morning

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It was a lightly overcast morning when I drove through Sonoita’s grasslands recently. Brilliant sunshine is the default condition in southern Arizona, so I welcome the opportunity to photograph under different lighting conditions. It makes photography more interesting to me.

I came across a Western Kingbird sitting on a wire fence. In the first image you’ll notice a small feather on the bird’s beak. That, plus the fact that it had fluffed out its feathers, suggested to me that it was preening moments before I arrived on scene.

As I photographed it, the kingbird dipped its head down and rubbed its beak against the fence wire. Many species of birds engage in this behavior of cleaning their beaks via friction. It has a technical name, “feaking,” a word that is probably borrowed from the sport of falconry.

Having gotten rid of its feather, the kingbird raised its head and sat quietly. I’d like to think that it was pleased with itself.

It was all in an early morning’s work for the kingbird. Birds spend much of their time preening when they are not foraging. Plumage maintenance isn’t just a matter of avian vanity. Birds need their feathers to be in top condition in order to fly. Thus, they spend lots of time ridding themselves of dust, dirt, and other objects that would tend to mat their feathers.

Images made with a Canon R5, Canon EF 400mm DO II lens+Canon EF 1.4x telextender, M setting (auto ISO), ISO 2000, f6.3 @ 1/1600, +3 stops exposure compensation.

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