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Tropical Kingbird Life History


Open Woodlands

Tropical Kingbirds are generalists in their choice of habitats: almost any open or semiopen country with scattered perches and plenty of flying insects will do. In coastal areas, they frequent scrubby woodlands, mangroves, deserts with abundant cactus, thorn forest, beach scrub, and riparian corridors. Across the interior of Central and South America, Tropical Kingbirds are common in agricultural areas with scattered trees, pasture, parks, ranches, and gardens. In higher elevations, they favor similar habitats and forest gaps and edges. They are absent from deep forest. In cities and suburbs, the species thrives on golf courses and other human-made green spaces, even sometimes in areas with little vegetation—they are able to use towers and other structures for nests in place of trees. Most birds found out of range in North America appear on the Pacific coast, generally in open areas not far from the ocean, but records from the interior and the East have been increasing in the 21st century.

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Tropical Kingbirds feed mostly on large flying insects, which they capture by pursuit in flight. They watch for prey from favored elevated perches throughout the day, usually near treetop height, and they typically return to this perch to consume their prey, sometimes swallowing it whole but for very large prey first removing the wings. On occasion, they make long flights and capture multiple prey items in a single sally. Prey include beetles, bugs, dragonflies, grasshoppers, crickets, bees, wasps, termites, butterflies, and moths. Small spiders and a small frog are also recorded as prey. They also eat fruit, from near the ground or high in the canopy, usually by perching and plucking the fruit, sometimes by hovering when there is no convenient perch. In some cases, they strip the outer layer of the fruit before eating. Like other flycatchers, they regurgitate larger seeds. Fruits taken as food include cactus fruit, mistletoes, figs, guava, pepper plants, Roystonea palms, tickberry, gumbo-limbo, dwarf firebush, matchwood, black poisonwood, bastard cherry, aguacatillo, huevos de caballo, and many other tropical plants including Crematosperma, Tetracera, Dipterodendron, Guarea, and Conostegia, and species of the large Melastomataceae family.

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Nest Placement


Male and female inspect potential sites together before selecting a site, typically a fork or crotch high in a tree (up to 66 feet high) but sometimes just a few feet above water.

Nest Description

The female builds a bulky, sloppy-looking, shallow nest of vines, rootlets, twigs, weeds, and grasses; it is unlined or lined with hair. Nests average about 5.2 inches across and 3 inches tall, with interior cup about 3 inches across and 1.6 inches deep.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:2-4 eggs
Egg Description:

Whitish or pale pink with variable amount of dark blotching, densest around large end.

Condition at Hatching:

Helpless and with sparse gray down.

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Tropical Kingbirds appear to be monogamous. In most parts of the species’ range, they are permanent residents and remain together in pairs year-round. As the nesting season approaches, males give soft calls, flutter the wings, and point the bill toward the ground, sometimes flying out in a butterfly-like flight. Such displays resemble courtship but in established pairs are likely means of maintaining pair bonds. Where they are permanent residents, Tropical Kingbirds do not often attack others of their species, but in the northern and southern extremes of the range, migratory birds must establish nesting territories as they return from wintering areas. At this time, conflicts between males are very common in migratory populations, involving either threat displays (crown raising, stretching the body toward the opponent) or chases in the air. Like other kingbirds, Tropical Kingbirds are aggressive toward all sorts of bird species that come too near a nest: from warblers, orioles, and other flycatchers to anis and woodpeckers. However, many accounts mention that Tropical Kingbirds nest close to many other flycatcher species, including kingbirds, without conflicts. Females build the nest and incubate the eggs, and both adults provision the chicks with food.

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Low Concern

Tropical Kingbirds inhabit many sorts of human-modified environments, including urban areas, and their range has expanded with changes in landscape. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 200 million. They rate the species a 4 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern.

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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.

Stouffer, Philip C. and R. Terry Chesser. (1998). Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

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Learn more at Birds of the World