Great Kiskadees live in thorn-scrub, mesquite-cactus, and elm-ash forests in south Texas, and in tropical deciduous forest elsewhere, typically near clearings or water such as lakes, rivers, or ponds. They do not live in continuous tracts of woodlands. They are also found in human-dominated landscapes, suburbs, and (in the tropics) shade-coffee farms and banana and citrus plantations.Back to top
Great Kiskadees eat both animal prey and fruit. They hunt like a flycatcher, fish like a kingfisher, and forage like a jay. They perch on treetops in open areas, sallying forth to snatch flying insects in midair. They also glean through grass, shrubs, and trees for beetles, grasshoppers, spiders, millipedes, lizards, snakes, and small mice. Near bodies of water, they drop from perches to hover above the water’s surface and pluck prey such as small fish and tadpoles. They also eat fruit from trees, vines, cacti, and sometimes handouts from people. And they’ll boldly steal food from cat and dog dishes. Back to top
Great Kiskadees choose nest trees in open woodlands, along a forest edge, or in a lone tree within about 100 feet of the forest edge. They usually build their nests in the forks of trees, but sometimes in the upper crown. They like spots along branches dangling over water, also hidden among dense foliage or vines. In south Texas kiskadees nest in trees such as hackberries, elms, and Mexican ash. In the tropics they often nest in bull’s-horn acacias where colonies of stinging ants or wasps also live. Sometimes Great Kiskadees nest in cavities such as old woodpecker holes or Purple Martin houses.
Both sexes work together to build the nest, gathering grasses, thin twigs, moss, and paper or cotton. They gather these from vegetation while hovering, pick them up from the ground, or sometimes raid them from another bird’s nest. The birds begin by making a cup of soft grasses on a platform and then gradually build up the sides to make a domed roof. The finished nest is a tall, bulky, woven structure about 13–18 inches tall and 10 inches wide with a side entrance. The top of the nest hangs over the entrance hole like an awning.
|Clutch Size:||2-5 eggs|
|Number of Broods:||1-2 broods|
|Egg Length:||1.1-1.3 in (2.7-3.2 cm)|
|Egg Width:||0.8-0.9 in (2-2.3 cm)|
|Incubation Period:||15-22 days|
|Nestling Period:||10-12 days|
|Condition at Hatching:||Weak and mostly naked with sparse down, eyes closed.|
Great Kiskadees are very vocal birds, sometimes joining together in choruses of brash kis-ka-dee calls. They can appear quite tame and are not scared off by humans. In fact, they often seek out people in order to find food, whether provided at a feeder or left behind (such as bits of fishing bait on a dock). Despite their general aggressiveness, kiskadees often join mixed foraging flocks of Green Jays and Altamira Orioles in Texas. They defend territory boundaries during the breeding season, mostly through screeching, chasing, and a “wings-up” display in which they rear their wings back and slowly move them up and down in an exaggerated manner. They also flutter their wings at intruders raising the head and neck, lowering the bill, and showing off a yellow crown patch (they do this during courtship as well). Great Kiskadees are monogamous and maintain their pair bond throughout the year and during successive years. Back to top
Though they’re specialty birds in the U.S., Great Kiskadees are fairly common throughout their immense range in Central and South America. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 200 million with less than 1% living in the U.S. and 6% in Mexico. The species rates a 5 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and is not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List. Great Kiskadees have expanded their range in semiarid parts of south Texas, where they have benefited from irrigation, fragmentation of forests, and suburban development.Back to top
Great Kiskadees readily come to feeders to eat fruit such as bananas. Watch out for these bold birds: they also readily steal other kinds of food, such as bread, peanut butter, and pet food.Back to top
Brush, Timothy and John W. Fitzpatrick. (2002). Great Kiskadee (Pitangus sulphuratus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.
Dunne, P. (2006). Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, USA.
Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.
North American Bird Conservation Initiative. (2014). The State of the Birds 2014 Report. US Department of Interior, Washington, DC, USA.
Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.
Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.