and nestlings are fed more frequently and grow faster. This makes Kauffman Stadium valuable avian real estate for a flycatcher.
A Game For All Species
Attending games at Kauffman Stadium through the years, I always enjoyed watching a variety of birds. Kingbirds are by no means the only birds to take advantage of the plentiful supply of flying insects. Chimney swifts, kestrels (small falcons), nighthawks and several species of swallows are all entertaining and graceful insect hunters that frequent the ballpark. But for more than a decade, it was the western kingbird that I found particularly interesting. While most of the other “baseball birds” tend to navigate the airspace of the nosebleed seats, the kingbirds like to get right down where the action is.
Perhaps the most favored perching and hunting sites at Kauffman Stadium are the two cables that hold up the screen behind home plate. From here, the birds launch their aerial assaults on any hapless insect that enters their airspace. It seems the birds seldom miss, even when the quarry’s flight is as erratic and evasive as a moth. At times the kingbird’s pursuits actually take them onto the infield. On several occasions, I have even seen the home plate umpire step out to call time as a kingbird dove after an insect in front of a batter just as a pitch was about to be delivered. There are some risks involved with such foraging, but so far no kingbird has ever met up with a thrown or batted ball during a game.
As a biologist, I find myself marveling at the ways this bird has adapted to my favorite game. Their foraging habits and schedule must be quite different when the team is on the road. At some level, I imagine they must be glad when the Royals begin a homestand and they see the return of the crowds—knowing it also means the return of the lights and the insect feast they bring. I wonder how this schedule of attending night games affects the birds’ internal clock? Flycatchers are not nocturnal birds. If play on the field runs late, kingbirds can still be seen hawking insects well after dark. How do they adjust to this schedule? Are they tired the next day, as perhaps many of the fans are after getting home late and getting up for work the next day? Do they sleep in?
The kingbird’s baseball season doesn’t last as long as the Royals. By early August, young kingbirds are raised and the birds are no longer visible at the stadium. Adults head south first, followed a bit later by the juveniles. I often ponder the wildly contrasting life these “birds of summer” must lead in the off-season. Like many young major leaguers who play winter ball in Mexico, the Caribbean, or Central and South America, western kingbirds spend their winters in warmer climates. After three months of crowds, noise and bright lights, the birds begin the southward journey to spend the winter somewhere from the Pacific side of southern Mexico southward to Costa Rica.
They play winter baseball in those countries, and I like to think that the Kauffman Stadium birds are down there hanging around a ball field somewhere in Central America, taking in a game. Since they are no longer raising young or defending a territory and have only their own mouths to feed, life is slower-paced. Do they miss the action of summer up north? Did they grow accustomed to fireworks, “Let’s Go Royals” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”?
Now if only while they were down there during the winter months they could scout out a good shortstop prospect…