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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Eastern Kingbird

Tyrannus tyrannus ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: TYRANNIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

With dark gray upperparts and a neat white tip to the tail, the Eastern Kingbird looks like it’s wearing a business suit. And this big-headed, broad-shouldered bird does mean business—just watch one harassing crows, Red-tailed Hawks, Great Blue Herons, and other birds that pass over its territory. Eastern Kingbirds often perch on wires in open areas and either sally out for flying insects or flutter slowly over the tops of grasses. They spend winters in South American forests, where they eat mainly fruit.

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Keys to identification Help

Flycatchers
Flycatchers
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    The Eastern Kingbird is a sturdy, medium-sized songbird with a large head, upright posture, square-tipped tail, and a relatively short, straight bill.

  • Color Pattern

    Eastern Kingbirds are blackish above and white below. The head is a darker black than the wings and back, and the black tail has a conspicuous white tip.

  • Behavior

    Eastern Kingbirds often perch in the open atop trees or along utility lines or fences. They fly with very shallow, rowing wingbeats and a raised head, usually accompanied by metallic, sputtering calls. Eastern Kingbirds are visual hunters, sallying out from perches to snatch flying insects.

  • Habitat

    Eastern Kingbirds breed in open habitats such as yards, fields, pastures, grasslands, or wetlands, and are especially abundant in open places along forest edges or water. They spend winters in forests of South America.

Range Map Help

Eastern Kingbird Range Map
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Field MarksHelp

  • Adult

    Eastern Kingbird

    Adult
    • Large, dark flycatcher
    • Black head with slightly crested appearance
    • Dark gray upperparts, snowy white below
    • White tip on black tail
    • © Kurt Kirchmeier, Saskatchewan, Canada, July 2011
  • Adult

    Eastern Kingbird

    Adult
    • Large and stocky
    • Dark above, white below
    • Crown feathers often raised, giving "crested" look
    • White band at end of tail
    • © Kim Taylor, Bombay Hook NWR, Delaware, May 2010
  • Adult

    Eastern Kingbird

    Adult
    • Large flycatcher, sometimes seen hovering above fields
    • Dark tail contrasts with white underparts, and white band at end of tail
    • Dark gray crown
    • © Howard Powell, Springbank, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, July 2010
  • Adult with juveniles

    Eastern Kingbird

    Adult with juveniles
    • Stocky flycatcher with stout black bill
    • Dark gray above, white below
    • White band on end of otherwise dark gray/black tail
    • © Ken Schneider, Nelson Lake/Dick Young Forest Preserve, Kane County, Illinois, August 2009
  • Adult

    Eastern Kingbird

    Adult
    • Stocky and compact
    • Thick black bill
    • Dark gray/black above, snowy white below
    • White band at end of tail
    • © Kelly Azar, Chester County, Pennsylvania, June 2011
  • Adult

    Eastern Kingbird

    Adult
    • Stocky flycatcher, often perched prominently
    • Black head contrasts with white throat and underparts
    • White band at end of black tail
    • © Ron Kube, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, June 2009

Similar Species

  • Adult

    Eastern Phoebe

    Adult
    • Smaller than Eastern Kingbird with more slender bill
    • More delicate overall with proportionally longer tail
    • Underparts more gray or buffy, not as snowy white
    • Paler gray upperparts
    • © Kelly Azar, Chester County, Pennsylvania, March 2011

Similar Species

Other North American flycatchers lack the Eastern Kingbird’s obvious white tail tip. Eastern Phoebes are noticeably smaller, with more slender proportions and grayer sides than Eastern Kingbirds. They tend to perch lower and habitually bob their tails. Likewise, Eastern Wood-Pewees are slimmer and show grayer underparts than Eastern Kingbirds; they also show two pale wingbars and a smaller, lighter bill. Western Kingbirds have a bright-yellow belly and pale gray head and back. Great Crested Flycatchers have gray chests, yellow bellies, and rufous in the wings and tail; you’re more likely to find them in forests than in a kingbird’s open habitat. The Gray Kingbird, found in Florida and extreme southeastern Georgia, has a larger, light-gray head and a massive bill.

Backyard Tips

Kingbirds may visit open yards with nearby trees, scattered vegetation, and lots of insects. Berry bushes may help attract them, particularly in late summer and fall.

Find This Bird

In overgrown fields near forest edges, scan for a large, dark-backed flycatcher atop a shrub, fencepost, or wire. Wait for it to sally out to catch an insect, and look for an all-white belly and white-tipped tail. On country drives you can also often spot them as they sit on fence wires; it also helps to learn their distinctive call note, which sounds like an electric spark or zap. You can see Eastern Kingbirds starting in March or April until they head south again in late July or August.