Photo: Blake Shaw/Vireo

Cassin's Kingbird

Tyrannus vociferans

As suggested by its scientific name vociferans, Cassin's is our noisiest kingbird (except for the very localized Thick-billed). Possibly it has more need for vocal communication because it lives in denser habitat than most. Males have a strident "dawn song," a rising berg-berg-berg-BERG, often heard at first light but rarely later in the day, sometimes confused with song of Buff-collared Nightjar. Where present in numbers (as on wintering grounds in Mexico), flocks may gather to roost in large concentrations.
Conservation status Still widespread and common.
Family Tyrant Flycatchers
Habitat Semi-open high country, pine-oak mountains, groves. In breeding season favors more wooded habitat than most kingbirds, and ranges to higher elevations, although in places it overlaps with Western Kingbird. Nests in open pine forest, pinyon-juniper woodland, oak woodland, and streamside trees; at lower elevation may nest in groves of eucalyptus. During migration and winter can be found in more open habitats.
As suggested by its scientific name vociferans, Cassin's is our noisiest kingbird (except for the very localized Thick-billed). Possibly it has more need for vocal communication because it lives in denser habitat than most. Males have a strident "dawn song," a rising berg-berg-berg-BERG, often heard at first light but rarely later in the day, sometimes confused with song of Buff-collared Nightjar. Where present in numbers (as on wintering grounds in Mexico), flocks may gather to roost in large concentrations.
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Feeding Behavior

From a perch in a tree or on an exposed wire, flies out to capture flying insects in mid-air. May also fly out and hover while picking insects or other arthropods from leaves or from the ground.


Eggs

3-4, up to 5. Creamy white with brownish mottling, markings often concentrated near large end. Incubation is by female, about 18 days. Young: Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave the nest after 14-17 days. Usually 1 brood per year, may raise 2 in southern part of range.


Young

Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave the nest after 14-17 days. Usually 1 brood per year, may raise 2 in southern part of range.

Diet

Mostly insects, some berries. Feeds on a wide variety of insects, including wasps, beetles, caterpillars, moths, grasshoppers, true bugs, flies, and many others, as well as some spiders. Also eats some berries and fruits, more than most flycatchers.


Nesting

Male has a fast zigzag courtship flight. Members of pair may perch together in nest tree, calling and quivering wings. Adults actively harass larger birds (such as ravens and hawks) in vicinity of nest, but may tolerate other species of kingbirds nearby. Nest site is in a large tree such as sycamore, cottonwood, oak, or pine, placed on a horizontal or near-horizontal branch, often well out from the trunk. Usually 20-50' above the ground but occasionally lower and sometimes much higher. Nest is a bulky cup of twigs, weed stems, rootlets, leaves, feathers, hair, and debris, lined with finer plant fibers and other material.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Often lingers later in fall than other kingbirds. South of United States, may migrate in large flocks.

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Migration

Often lingers later in fall than other kingbirds. South of United States, may migrate in large flocks.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A loud chi-beer! and a rapid chi-beer, ch-beer-beer-beer-r-r.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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