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Overview

Brief Summary

Tyrannus tyrannus

A medium-sized (8 inches) flycatcher, the Eastern Kingbird is most easily identified by its dark gray head and back, pale breast, and black tail with conspicuous white band on tip. This species is most easily distinguished from the related Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis) by that species’ paler body and bright yellow belly. Male and female Eastern Kingbirds are similar to one another in all seasons. The Eastern Kingbird breeds across much of the United States and south-central Canada. This species is primarily absent as a breeding bird from the far north, the desert southwest, and the U.S. Pacific coast. Eastern Kingbirds spend the winter in the South American Amazon. Eastern Kingbirds breed in a variety of open and semi-open habitats, including forest edges, fields, and wetlands. During the winter, this species may be found in swampy or open habitats in humid tropical forests. Like most of their relatives, Eastern Kingbirds primarily eat small flying insects during the summer, but these birds also eat fruits and berries during the winter. In appropriate habitat, Eastern Kingbirds are most easily seen scanning the surrounding area from a prominent perch. These birds hunt by flying out from perches to capture prey in the air, displaying their characteristic white-on-black tail pattern as they do so. Eastern Kingbirds are primarily active during the day.

Threat Status: Least Concern

  • Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus). The Internet Bird Collection. Lynx Edicions, n.d. Web. 20 July 2012. .
  • Murphy, Michael T. 1996. Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/253
  • Peterson, Roger Tory. Birds of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980. Print.
  • Tyrannus tyrannus. Xeno-canto. Xeno-canto Foundation, n.d. Web. 20 July 2012. .
  • eBird Range Map - Eastern Kingbird. eBird. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, N.d. Web. 20 July 2012. .
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Distribution

Eastern kingbirds are the most widespread species in the genus Tyrranus. They breed throughout most of eastern North America, from the Gulf of Mexico north throughout much of southern and central Canada, as far east at the Atlantic seaboard to the Canadian maritime provinces, and as far west as central Texas, Colorado, northeastern Utah, eastern Oregon and Washington, and eastern British Columbia to the Yukon territories. They winter in South America, where their distribution is poorly understood but seems to be mainly in the western Amazon basin.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); neotropical (Native )

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occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Breeding

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Breeding

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Global Range: BREEDING: southwestern and north-central British Columbia and southern Mackenzie to New Brunswick, south to northeastern California, Utah, New Mexico, Gulf Coast, and Florida. NON-BREEDING: western Amazonia south to southern Bolivia and central Argentina; wanders east to Venezuela, Guyana, and Mato Grosso, Brazil (Hilty and Brown 1986).

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Geographic Range

Eastern kingbirds breed throughout most of eastern North America, from the Gulf of Mexico north to central Canada, as far east at the Atlantic ocean and as far west as the Rocky Mountains and eastern Washington and Oregon. They spend the winter in South America, mainly in the western Amazon basin.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); neotropical (Native )

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Range

E North America; winters mainly w Amazon basin.
  • Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2014. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: Version 6.9. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/

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Physical Description

Morphology

Eastern kingbirds are relatively small members of the genus Tyrannus, from 19.5 to 23 cm long. Males and females are similar, although males are slightly larger in all measurements. Males are distinguished from females by the notching of their 9th and 10th primaries, whereas only the 10th primary is notched in females. They are striking birds, with rich, black plumage dorsally and white plumage ventrally. They have an inconspicuous grey band across the chest. Kingbirds have an erectile crest of feathers on their head, although it isn't always observed. Males tend to erect their crown feathers more than females. Eastern kingbirds also have a small red or orange patch of feathers on the crown, which is rarely seen. They have a distinctive white trailing edge on the tail. The bill, claws, and legs are black. There are no recognized subspecies, but there is geographic variation in some measurements and in the width of the white tail tips.

Range length: 19.5 to 23 cm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger

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Physical Description

Eastern kingbirds are relatively small flycatchers, from 19.5 to 23 cm long. Males and females are similar, although males are slightly larger. They are striking birds, with rich, black feathers on their backs and white chins, breasts, and bellies. Kingbirds have a crest of feathers on their head, which males tend to hold up more than females. Eastern kingbirds also have a small red patch of feathers on the crest. They have a distinctive white edge at the end of the tail. The bill, claws, and legs are black.

Range length: 19.5 to 23 cm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger

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Size

Length: 22 cm

Weight: 40 grams

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Freshwater
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Eastern kingbirds are found in open, savanna-like habitats, often near water. They occur in fields and grasslands with scattered tall trees for nesting and perching. Suitable habitats include parks, riparian forests, large burned areas or blowouts in forests, golf courses, and suburban and urban areas. Little is know about their migratory habits, but they are found in a wide variety of habitats while migrating. In winter they are found in forest-edge, riparian forest, and near wetlands.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland

Other Habitat Features: urban ; suburban ; agricultural ; riparian

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Comments: Forest edge, open situations with scattered trees and shrubs, cultivated lands with bushes and fencerows, and parks; in winter more closely associated with forest clearings and borders (AOU 1983). Migrants in Costa Rica roost in isolated clumps of trees or amid tall coarse grass (Stiles and Skutch 1989). BREEDING: Nests usually on horizontal limb of isolated tree or orchard tree, in low shrub at water's edge, or on stump or snag in water; average height of 3-6 m (Terres 1980).

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Eastern kingbirds are found in open, savanna-like habitats, often near water. They occur in fields and grasslands with scattered tall trees for nesting and perching, including parks, forests along rivers, forest openings, golf courses, and suburban and urban areas. In winter they are found in forest-edges, forests along rivers, and near wetlands.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland

Other Habitat Features: urban ; suburban ; agricultural ; riparian

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Migration

Non-Migrant: No. All populations of this species make significant seasonal migrations.

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

Arrives in nesting areas April-May (Terres 1980). Migrates through Costa Rica from late August or early September to late October and late March to mid-May (Stiles and Skutch 1989). Present in Colombia mainly early September-late October, and early March-early May; migrates in groups, sometimes many hundreds, infrequently alone (Hilty and Brown 1986, Ridgely and Gwynne 1989). Arrives in southeastern Peru in late September (Keast and Morton 1980).

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Trophic Strategy

Eastern kingbirds eat insects during the breeding season and both insects and fruit outside of the breeding season. Insects make up 85% of the diet from May to September, including bees and wasps (Hymenoptera), beetles (Coleoptera), grasshoppers (Orthoptera), bugs (Hemiptera), and flies (Diptera). Insect prey is mainly taken by hawking from a perch. They dart out from perches to capture flying prey in their air. They will also take insects from the water or ground by hovering or gleaning. Small prey are eaten immediately, larger prey are taken back to the perch and smashed until they are subdued before being eaten. Larger prey are preferred. Fruit is taken in flight while hovering or gleaning as well. Eastern kingbirds do not seem to drink water.

Animal Foods: amphibians; insects

Plant Foods: fruit

Primary Diet: omnivore

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Comments: Eats mainly insects obtained by flycatching from perch; also eats seeds and small fruits, and may pick food from ground or water surface (Terres 1980). Migrants in Costa Rica hawk insects and eat berries or arillate seeds (Stiles and Skutch 1989). Migrants in Panama often feed in flocks on fruit in forest canopy (Ridgely and Gwynne 1989).

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Food Habits

Eastern kingbirds eat insects during the breeding season and both insects and fruit in winter. Insects make up 85% of the diet from May to September, including Hymenoptera, Coleoptera, Orthoptera, Hemiptera, and Diptera. Insect prey is mainly taken by hawking from a perch. They dart out from perches to capture insects in their air. They will also take insects from the water or ground by hovering. Small insects are eaten immediately, larger insects are taken back to the perch and smashed until they can be eaten. Eastern kingbirds drink water, instead they get enough moisture from insects and prey.

Animal Foods: amphibians; insects

Plant Foods: fruit

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Associations

Eastern kingbirds are important predators of insects during the breeding season. They eat fruits and may disperse seeds as well. They forage with other Tyrannus species in their winter range in South America, including tropical kingbirds (Tyrannus melancholicus) and fork-tailed flycatchers (Tyrannus savanna). They may nest near Swainson's or ferruginous hawks (Buteo swainsoni, Buteo regalis), both of which prey on common nest predators, such as crows and blue jays. Hatchlings are parasitized by mites, otherwise there is little known about parasites. Eastern kingbird nests are parasitized by brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater) and other eastern kingbirds.

Mutualist Species:

  • tropical kingbirds (Tyrannus melancholicus)
  • fork-tailed flycatchers (Tyrannus savanna)
  • Swainson's hawks (Buteo swainsoni)
  • ferruginous hawks (Buteo regalis)

Commensal/Parasitic Species:

  • blood-sucking mites (Acari)
  • brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater)

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Most predators target eggs and nestlings. Eastern kingbird adults are sometimes taken by aerial predators, such as American kestrels (Falco sparverius). Eastern kingbirds are aggressive and will energetically attack perceived threats, such as large hawks, crows, blue jays, squirrels, and snakes, whenever they are nearby. They will dive at a threat with their crest raised, exposing the red crown feathers, and with the mouth wide open, exposing their bright red gape. They will repeatedly attack the threat until they retreat. Eggs and nestlings are preyed on by crows (Corvus), blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata), squirrels (Sciurus and Tamiasciurus), and arboreal snakes.

Known Predators:

  • American kestrels (Falco sparverius)
  • crows (Corvus)
  • blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata)
  • tree squirrels (Sciurus)
  • red squirrels (Tamiasciurus)
  • arboreal snakes (Serpentes)

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Ecosystem Roles

Eastern kingbirds are important predators of insects during the breeding season. They eat fruits and may disperse seeds as well. They may nest near Buteo swainsoni or Buteo regalis, which prey on their nest predators, such as crows and blue jays. Hatchlings are parasitized by mites. Molothrus ater lay their eggs in eastern kingbird nests sometimes.

Mutualist Species:

  • tropical kingbirds (Tyrannus_melancholicus)
  • fork-tailed flycatchers (Tyrannus_savanna)
  • Swainson's hawks (Buteo_swainsoni)
  • ferruginous hawks (Buteo_regalis)

Commensal/Parasitic Species:

  • blood-sucking mites (Acari)
  • brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus_ater)

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Predation

Most predators take eggs and nestlings. Eastern kingbird adults are sometimes taken by birds of prey, such as Falco sparverius. Eastern kingbirds are aggressive and will energetically attack threats, such as large hawks, crows, blue jays, squirrels, and snakes, whenever they are nearby. They will dive at a threat with their crest raised, exposing the red crown feathers, and with the mouth wide open, exposing their bright red mouth lining. They repeatedly attack the threat until they retreat. Eggs and nestlings are preyed on by Corvus, Cyanocitta cristata, Sciurus and Tamiasciurus, and tree-climbing snakes.

Known Predators:

  • American kestrels (Falco_sparverius)
  • crows (Corvus)
  • blue jays (Cyanocitta_cristata)
  • tree squirrels (Sciurus)
  • red squirrels (Tamiasciurus)
  • arboreal snakes (Serpentes)

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General Ecology

Mean size of 4 territories in South Carolina during nestling period was 8.4 hectares (Odum and Keunzler 1955, cited in Murphy 1996). However, territories tend to be larger earlier in the nesting cycle (Odum and Keunzler 1955).

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Eastern kingbirds use a variety of vocalizations to communicate, especially during the breeding season. In their winter range eastern kingbirds vocalize very little. Males sing a complex song in the pre-dawn hours, especially males in more dense populations. Calls are harsh and buzzing, often repeated "zeers." Males vocalize extensively when patrolling their nesting territory. Females vocalize as well, but males use vocalizations more frequently. Adults and juveniles will snap their bills at threats as well and they make whirring sounds with their wings occasionally. Courtship involves aerial displays between mates.

Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Communication and Perception

Eastern kingbirds use a variety of calls to communicate, especially during the breeding season. Males sing a complex song in the early morning. Calls are harsh and buzzing "zeers." Males call more often than females. Eastern kingbirds snap their bills at threats as well and make whirring sounds with their wings. During mating males perform displays in flight to attract females.

Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic

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Life Expectancy

Maximum lifespan is not reported for eastern kingbirds, but annual survival has been estimated at 54% for females and 69% for males. Most mortality in young is the result of predation. Causes of adult mortality are unclear, but may also be mainly predation.

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Lifespan/Longevity

It is not known how long eastern kingbirds live. Most young die from being preyed on in their first year.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 11.1 years (wild) Observations: Capable of breeding in the first year.
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Reproduction

Eastern kingbirds are monogamous, although they seem to have a skewed sex ratio, with fewer females than males. Male mates that are lost are quickly replaced by other males. There is some evidence of occasional extra pair copulations or quasiparasitism, where a second female mates with the resident male and lays eggs in the first female's nest. Males perform aerial displays to attract females, they fly in short, zig-zag patterns with their wings fluttering while vocalizing.

Mating System: monogamous

Eastern kingbirds breed from April to June, mostly in May. Females build nests of twigs, bark, and roots lined with softer material, like cattail down or willow catkins. Nests are constructed 2 to 8 m high in trees in open habitats. Females can lay 2nd or 3rd clutches if previous clutches are lost, but if a clutch is successful, there are no additional broods. Females lay 2 to 5, usually 3 cream colored eggs with reddish spots. Eggs are usually laid one per day until the clutch is complete. Incubation is for 14 to 17 days and young fledge 16 to 17 days after hatching. They can reproduce in their first year after hatching, although breeding may be delayed.

Breeding interval: Eastern kingbirds breed once each year.

Breeding season: Eastern kingbirds breed from April to June.

Range eggs per season: 2 to 5.

Average eggs per season: 3.

Range time to hatching: 14 to 17 days.

Range fledging age: 16 to 17 days.

Average time to independence: 30 days.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 1 (low) years.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 1 (low) years.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous

Young are naked at hatching. Only females incubate and brood the young. Males and females feed nestlings, but females feed more than males. Young are fed insects as much as possible, but parents will provide fruit as well. They remove stingers from bees and wasps before feeding them to the young. Parents continue to feed and protect their young up to 5 weeks after fledging, at 7 to 8 weeks old. Young begin to feed themselves at about 4 weeks old.

Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female)

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Clutch size 3-5 eggs. Incubation 12-13 days or perhaps longer, by female. Young tended by both parents, leave nest at about 13-14 days; parents continue to feed young for up to 5 weeks more.

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Eastern kingbirds form mated pairs that stay together for a breeding season. Males attract females by flying in short zig-zags while also calling.

Mating System: monogamous

Eastern kingbirds breed from April to June. Females build nests of twigs, bark, and roots lined with softer material. Nests are built high in trees in open habitats. Females lay 2 to 5 cream colored eggs with reddish spots. Incubation is for 14 to 17 days and young can fly 16 to 17 days after hatching. Eastern kingbirds can breed in their first year after hatching.

Breeding interval: Eastern kingbirds breed once each year.

Breeding season: Eastern kingbirds breed from April to June.

Range eggs per season: 2 to 5.

Average eggs per season: 3.

Range time to hatching: 14 to 17 days.

Range fledging age: 16 to 17 days.

Average time to independence: 30 days.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 1 (low) years.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 1 (low) years.

Key Reproductive Features: seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)

Young are naked and helpless at hatching. Only females incubate the eggs and keep the young warm. Males and females feed nestlings, but females feed more than males. Young are fed insects as much as possible, but parents will feed them fruit as well. They remove stingers from bees and wasps before feeding them to the young. Parents continue to feed and protect their young up to 5 weeks after they can fly, at 7 to 8 weeks old. Young begin to feed themselves at about 4 weeks old.

Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female)

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Tyrannus tyrannus

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 3
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2012

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Contributor/s

Justification
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

History
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
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