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Western Kingbird


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.


Though it’s not technically in the group of birds known as songbirds, the Western Kingbird has one call that functions as a song. Starting just before sunrise, breeding males perch on tree limbs or wires and give a rising series of sharp kips, culminating in a frantic burst of loud descending notes. Each call lasts about 2 seconds, and the male may repeat the pattern for half an hour to proclaim his territory.


Western Kingbirds give sharp kip notes and squeaky twitters. The male gives a harsh, buzzing call when attacking predators or other kingbirds.

Other Sounds

Both males and females snap their bills while attacking predators or intruders. The male occasionally makes a whirring sound with his wings when fighting with other Western Kingbirds.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

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.

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Find out more on how to distinguish the yellow kingbird species, with photographs of specimens in the Cornell University Museum of Vertebrates.



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bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

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