These aggressive flycatchers are simply identified by a black
back and head and a white belly, chest, and chin. Sometimes a grayish band
can be seen across their chest. An easy giveaway that you’ve found an
Eastern Kingbird is the white band that covers their tail tip. They also
have a hidden patch of red feathers on the head. Males and females have
similar plumage so their behavior is the best way to tell them apart.
Usually males perch upright and will keep a slight crest to their head.
Females, on the other hand, usually perch horizontally and only display a
crest when roused.
photo M. Noonan
Of the breeding Kingbirds in the United States, the Eastern
Kingbirds are the most widespread. They breed throughout almost all of the
United States except for in the Southwest. They also breed throughout the
majority of Canada. Within this range, Eastern Kingbirds prefer to breed in
open environments where trees and shrubs are spread out, and perching sites
are available. This means that along woodland edges and orchards are ideal,
also they thrive in the savannah. They seem to be drawn to water as well.
When migration starts, however, Eastern Kingbirds are not as picky about
where they stay, and the different habitats in which they are found varies
greatly. Eastern Kingbirds perch to scout for food. Larger insects, when
captured, are taken back to the perch and beaten until they are dead and
then consumed. Smaller insects are taken in as they are captured. Almost
90% of their food taken in is insects. But, later in the summer, or during
winter, fruit, usually small berries, are also consumed.
Eastern Kingbirds are very aggressive and territorial. They
usually have very little interactions with other species of birds.
Territoriality is at a peak at the start of the breeding season. During
this time Eastern Kingbirds are mostly solitary. Females force the
formation of a pair bond, as males are usually aggressive towards them at
the start. Eventually, the male will become more tolerant of the female.
Tolerance to other Eastern Kingbirds within a pair’s territory also
increases throughout the season. When migration begins, Eastern Kingbirds
become very social birds. Communication between Kingbirds is greatly based
on visual signs. Accompanied by a distinct action, the same vocalization
can mean different things. Eastern Kingbirds raise only one brood per
season, with an average of 3-4 eggs. The reason possibly being that even
though young kingbirds usually leaving the nest by the 17th day,
they rely on their parents for food for the next two weeks, at least.
Where to see them in WNY
Remember that Eastern Kingbirds perch while looking for
food. So, when on the lookout for these birds, search at the tops of trees
and shrubs, on barbed wire, fence posts, and atop the branches of snags for
a distinctly contrasted black and white bird. If while watching an Eastern
Kingbird, it flies from its perch, keep an eye on the perch from which it
flew – half of the time while foraging, it will return to the same perch.
It has been found that in New York State, Eastern Kingbirds prefer to nest
within the branches of Hawthorn trees.