Living Bird Magazine
Western KingbirdTyrannus verticalis
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Tyrannidae
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.More ID Info
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.
- Tirano Occidental (Spanish)
- Tyran de l'Ouest (French)
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.
- Cool Facts
- The Western Kingbird’s breeding range has been spreading for the last century as an unplanned result of human activities. By planting trees and installing utility poles in open areas, people have provided hunting perches and nest sites, and by clearing forests they have created open habitats suitable for foraging.
- Though known as birds of the West, Western Kingbirds tend to wander during fall migration. They show up along the East Coast, between Florida and Newfoundland, every autumn—but only rarely during the spring. In 1915 Western Kingbirds began spending winters in Florida, where they are now regular winter residents.
- Western Kingbirds aggressively fend off predators and other kingbirds from their territories. The males warn off intruders with harsh buzzes or whirring wings. Both males and females snap their bills and raise their red crowns (normally hidden under gray feathers on their heads) when provoked. As the breeding season wears on, each pair defends a smaller and smaller territory. By mid-incubation time the territory includes the nest tree and little else.
- The Western Kingbird was originally known as the Arkansas Kingbird, but scientists changed its name to acknowledge its wide range across western North America.
- The oldest Western Kingbird on record was a male, and at least 6 years, 11 months old, when he was found in South Dakota.