Photo: Rick & Nora Bowers/Vireo

Eastern Kingbird

Tyrannus tyrannus

This species is the only widespread kingbird in the east. Common and conspicuous in summer, it is often seen perched jauntily on a treetop or fence wire, or sallying out with shallow fluttering wingbeats to catch an insect in mid-air. In winter in South America it takes on a different personality, living in flocks in tropical forest and dining on berries.
Conservation status Surveys show a gradual decrease in numbers since the 1960s, but still widespread and common.
Family Tyrant Flycatchers
Habitat Wood edges, river groves, farms, shelterbelts, orchards, roadsides. In summer, requires open space for hunting and trees for nesting; habitat ranges from clearings within forest to open grassland with few scattered trees. Often common around edges of marshes, farmland, native tallgrass prairie. Winters in tropical forest, especially around edges and along rivers.
This species is the only widespread kingbird in the east. Common and conspicuous in summer, it is often seen perched jauntily on a treetop or fence wire, or sallying out with shallow fluttering wingbeats to catch an insect in mid-air. In winter in South America it takes on a different personality, living in flocks in tropical forest and dining on berries.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • juvenile
  • adult
  • adult
  • adult
Feeding Behavior

Forages by watching from a perch and then flying out to catch insects. May capture food in mid-air, or may hover while taking items (insects, berries) from foliage. In cold weather, when few insects are flying, may feed on ground.


Eggs

3-4, sometimes 2-5. White to pinkish-white, heavily blotched with brown, lavender, and gray. Incubation is mostly or entirely by female, 16-18 days (perhaps sometimes shorter). Young: Both parents bring food for nestlings. Age of young at first flight about 16-18 days; young may be tended by parents for more than a month after fledging.


Young

Both parents bring food for nestlings. Age of young at first flight about 16-18 days; young may be tended by parents for more than a month after fledging.

Diet

Mostly insects, some fruit. Insects make up majority of summer diet; included are many beetles, wasps, bees, winged ants, grasshoppers, flies, leafhoppers, and others. Sometimes claimed to be a serious predator on honeybees, but there is little evidence for this. Also eats many berries and wild fruits. Winter diet not well known, but feeds heavily on berries in tropical forest.


Nesting

In courtship, the male displays with rapid up-and-down flight, zigzags, backwards somersaults, and other aerial acrobatics. The red patch of crown feathers, usually concealed, may be visible during displays. Nest site is usually in deciduous tree or large shrub, 7-30' above the ground, sometimes lower or much higher. Sometimes on powerline towers, on dead snags standing in water, on top of fence post, or other odd site. Nest (built by female, perhaps with help from male) is a bulky cup of weed stalks, twigs, grass, lined with fine grass and sometimes animal hair.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

A long-distance migrant, wintering entirely in South America. Migrates in flocks. Unlike many of the migratory songbirds, kingbirds may travel mostly by day.

Download Our Bird Guide App

Migration

A long-distance migrant, wintering entirely in South America. Migrates in flocks. Unlike many of the migratory songbirds, kingbirds may travel mostly by day.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A sharp dzee or dzeet. Also a series of harsh, rapid calls: kit and kitter.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

Explore Similar Birds