How the Kingbird Became King of the Birds

(with acknowledgement, respect and thanks to the speedy and powerful Rudyard Kipling, author of ‘Just So Stories’)

photo courtesy of public domain

*This story took place not so very long ago.  Not so long ago that is, if you think about how very old our world is. 

Back in the days when this story took place human beings were quite different than they are now.  Back then, human beings were not so brave, not so wise and not so clever as we all are now.  Back then, human beings were a-scared of almost everything.  Back when this story took place human beings were fearful…always and ever fearful.  Human beings reacted with high pitched emotions (like the 5th string of a banjo) to pretty much every new person, place or thing they encountered; and many of the old things too.  Not like us today…no, not like us.  But then…this story has absolutely nothing to do with human beings.  So let us begin.*

The birds of the world held a big meeting to decide who was to be named King of the Birds.  Having a King, the birds thought, would be a very good thing.  A King, they believed…well, he or she would just take charge of things all right, all right, all right…a King would make the tough decisions that the rest of the birds didn’t want to make for themselves.  Better to have a King around to make all those tough decisions.  So they held a big meeting to pick a King..

All of the birds gathered (perhaps flocked is a better word) together.  This must have been a very big and grand place because there were–and still are–so many many birds. When all of the chatter finally died down (no doubt this took some time, you know how birds can be…especially the geese, chickens and turkeys), the Bellbird…by virtue of having the loudest voice of all the birds…flew up to the podium and addressed the throng.

‘Thank you all for coming to this meeting,’ rang the Bellbird.  ‘Especially you flightless birds; I know what a long walk it must have been to get here.  We have come here to pick out…please note I DID NOT say “peck out”…our King!’

My, what a sound came out from the crowd of birds at that point!  Imagine, if you can, the sound of all the birds of the world giving out with their best vocalization all at the same time; but of course you can’t really imagine that.  Take my word for it, that sound was singular and spectacular.

When quiet returned, the Bellbird continued; ‘I now open the meeting to any bird who wishes to be King of the Birds.’

First up to the podium came the Harpy Eagle.

‘I am the most powerful of all the birds.  I should be King.’

Next up came the Ostrich.

‘I am the largest of all the birds.  I should be King.’

Next, came the Raven.

‘I am the smartest of all the birds.  I even use tools!  I should be King.’

Next, the Peregrine Falcon zipped up to the podium.


Next, the Arctic Tern approached the podium.

‘I regularly travel from the North Pole to the South Pole.  I have seen the entire world.  I should be King.’

The Emperor Penguin also had a notion to go to the podium but struggled and stumbled trying to ascend the eight steps that led up to it.  After about a half hour of trying the Emperor Penguin croaked, ‘Ah hell, I didn’t want to be King of the Birds anyway.’ And waddled back to his seat, hearing quite a few partially covered snickers and whispers from the crowd.

‘OK,’ said the Bellbird.  ‘I guess that’s all the nominees.  Now it’s up to all of you to decide…who is to become King of the Birds.’

If you thought that previous cacophony of bird song was singular and spectacular, let me say it was but a whisper-in-church compared to what came next.  Oh my!

Each individual bird, it seemed, had his or her own favorite choice and each individual bird expressed his or her opinion in the most enthusiastic manner possible.  These opinions were then countered by increasingly strident, even operatic, expressions of opinion; then those were countered and so on…and so on.

Some birds, it seemed, clearly believed the Harpy Eagle should be King.  Others robustly supported the Raven, the Ostrich, the Peregrine Falcon and the Arctic Tern.  There was even a small, but dedicated, contingent for the Emperor Penguin.

In effect, each bird at the meeting was saying, ‘You’re wrong.  Why won’t you believe what I believe!!!’

Louder and louder became the debate…more and more entrenched, less and less tolerant became each supporter of their beloved and favorite candidate.  The rhetoric turned purple.  Short-lived skirmishes even broke out, as emotions fairly flooded the venue.  The Bellbird just threw up his wings and sat down.

Finally (most likely due to sheer hunger and thirst), after 7 hours and 43 minutes, a brief quiet broke out in the meeting.

As quick as a flash, the Kingbird flew up to the podium and spoke to the multitude.

‘I humbly and gratefully accept your nomination to be King of the Birds.  As my first and only Royal Proclamation, I give you these words:  Live your best lives.  Now, back to work…all of you.’

The birds somehow instantly recognized the wisdom spoken by their new King.  They recognized that the King who rules best, rules least.  The Kingbird truly was a great King.  The Kingbird continues to rule wisely to this very day.

And that is how the Kingbird became King of the Birds.