Eastern Kingbird

Common Name: Eastern Kingbird

Class:  Aves

Order: Passeriformes

Family: Tyrannidae

Genus: Tyrannus

Species: Tyrannus tyrannus

photo M. Noonan

 

Taxonomy/Description

 

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

 

Habitat/Diet

 

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. 

 

Behavior/Reproduction

 

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. 

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