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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Western Kingbird

Tyrannus verticalis ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: TYRANNIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Western Kingbird Photo

An eye-catching bird with ashy gray and lemon-yellow plumage, the Western Kingbird is a familiar summertime sight in open habitats across western North America. This large flycatcher sallies out to capture flying insects from conspicuous perches on trees or utility lines, flashing a black tail with white edges. Western Kingbirds are aggressive and will scold and chase intruders (including Red-tailed Hawks and American Kestrels) with a snapping bill and flared crimson feathers they normally keep hidden under their gray crowns.

ML Essential Set
Funky Nests

Keys to identification Help

Flycatchers
Flycatchers
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Western Kingbirds are fairly large flycatchers with large heads and broad shoulders. They have heavy, straight bills, long wings, and a medium-length, square-tipped tail.

  • Color Pattern

    Western Kingbirds are gray-headed birds with a yellow belly and a whitish chest and throat. The tail is black with white outer tail feathers that are especially conspicuous in flight.

  • Behavior

    Easily found perched upright on fences and utility lines, Western Kingbirds hawk insects from the air or fly out to pick prey from the ground. They ferociously defend their territories with wing-fluttering, highly vocal attacks. Vocalizations include long series of squeaky, bubbling calls as well as single, accented kip notes.

  • Habitat

    Western Kingbirds live in open habitats, where they perch on utility lines, fences, and trees. They prefer valleys and lowlands, including grasslands, deserts, sagebrush, agricultural fields, and open woodlands. They are typically found below about 7,000 feet in elevation.

Range Map Help

Western Kingbird Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult

    Western Kingbird

    Adult
    • Medium-sized flycatcher
    • Pale gray above and on head and breast
    • Lemon yellow belly
    • Whitish throat
    • © Ron Kube, Southern, Alberta, Canada, June 2011
  • Adult

    Western Kingbird

    Adult
    • Slender, medium-sized flycatcher with long wings
    • Often seen perched on wires or posts
    • Pale gray above, with lemon yellow belly
    • Dark, flattened bill
    • © Lew Ulrey, Milner Area, Twin Falls County, Idaho, July 2008
  • Adult

    Western Kingbird

    Adult
    • Medium-sized flycatcher with long wings
    • Pale gray above with lemon yellow on belly
    • Whitish throat
    • Stout, flattened black bill
    • © Lois Manowitz, Rio Vista Park, Tucson, Arizona, April 2010
  • Adult

    Western Kingbird

    Adult
    • Often seen perched on wires
    • Long, pointed wings
    • Dark tail has white edges on outermost feathers
    • Lemon yellow belly
    • © Mark Summers, Salt Lake City, Utah, May 2011
  • Adult

    Western Kingbird

    Adult
    • Medium-sized, slender, long-winged flycatcher
    • Pale gray above with darker tail, and contrasting whitish throat
    • Lemon yellow belly
    • White edges on outer tail feathers
    • © Ron Kube, South of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, June 2009
  • Juvenile

    Western Kingbird

    Juvenile
    • Slender, medium-sized flycatcher with long wings
    • Juvenile more muted than adult with paler yellow belly and greenish tinge above
    • Pale edges on wing coverts
    • Pale gray head and whitish throat
    • © Stephen Ramirez, San Marcos, Texas, August 2011

Similar Species

  • Adult

    Cassin's Kingbird

    Adult
    • Darker, charcoal gray on head and breast
    • Obvious, contrasting white chin stripe, rather than generally pale throat
    • White band along tip of tail instead of on outer feathers
    • © Lois Manowitz, Patagonia, Arizona, May 2011
  • Adult

    Tropical Kingbird

    Adult
    • Larger, thicker bill than Western Kingbird
    • More green on back and wings
    • Brighter yellow all over breast and belly
    • © Ed Schneider, Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico, November 2008
  • Adult

    Couch's Kingbird

    Adult
    • More extensive and brighter yellow underparts than Western Kingbird
    • Larger, thicker bill
    • © Carlos Escamilla, Laredo, Texas, May 2011

Similar Species

Three other species of yellow-bellied kingbirds overlap with Western Kingbirds: Cassin’s Kingbird, Tropical Kingbird, and Couch’s Kingbird. None of these three show the Western Kingbird’s black tail with white outer feathers. In addition, Cassin’s Kingbirds are much darker gray from the head to the chest than Western Kingbirds, with a small, distinct chin patch of white. Tropical and Couch’s Kingbirds both have noticeably longer and stouter bills. The Ash-throated Flycatcher of the West shows much more brown in the wings and the tail than a Western Kingbird. The Great Crested Flycatcher of the Midwest and East has the same pattern of warm brown in the wings and tail—a very helpful characteristic for all flycatchers in the genus Myiarchus that helps separate these birds from the kingbirds (genus Tyrannus).

Backyard Tips

If you live in a rural area with open habitat such as grassy fields, Western Kingbirds may perch on shade trees or fences in your yard. Although they are mostly insectivores, they may eat fruits of elderberry, hawthorn, Texas mulberry, woodbine, and other shrubs.

Find This Bird

During spring and summer, these large, aggressive flycatchers with gray-and-lemon plumage are conspicuous in open habitats across western North America. Their sharp kip notes and other squeaky calls can help lead you to them. In between flycatching flights, Western Kingbirds perch on trees, shrubs, fence posts, and power lines; this makes them fairly easy to spot along roadsides.