Photo: Brian E. Small/Vireo

Tropical Kingbird

Tyrannus melancholicus

One of the most widespread birds of the American tropics, this species reaches the United States mainly in southern Arizona. There it is the quietest and most inconspicuous of the four kingbird species present. Beginning in the early 1990s a few Tropicals were also found in southern Texas, where they overlap with their close relative, Couch's Kingbird. Unlike most kingbirds, Tropicals are seldom found in flocks.
Conservation status Numbers in United States increasing slightly. Farther south, has become much more abundant and widespread as tropical forest has been cleared and turned into open country.
Family Tyrant Flycatchers
Habitat River groves, scattered trees. Breeding habitat in Arizona is in groves of cottonwoods near water at low elevations. Farther south in the tropics, found in any kind of open or semi-open habitat, from savannahs and farms to towns and cities.
One of the most widespread birds of the American tropics, this species reaches the United States mainly in southern Arizona. There it is the quietest and most inconspicuous of the four kingbird species present. Beginning in the early 1990s a few Tropicals were also found in southern Texas, where they overlap with their close relative, Couch's Kingbird. Unlike most kingbirds, Tropicals are seldom found in flocks.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • adult
Feeding Behavior

From a perch on a tree, wire, fence, etc., the bird sallies out to capture insects in flight; also hovers and drops to ground for insects there.


Eggs

3-4, sometimes 5. Creamy buff or pinkish, with blotching of brown and purple often concentrated at large end. Incubation is by female only, about 15-16 days. Young: Both parents bring food for nestlings. Young leave the nest about 18-19 days after hatching. Apparently just 1 brood per year in United States part of range.


Young

Both parents bring food for nestlings. Young leave the nest about 18-19 days after hatching. Apparently just 1 brood per year in United States part of range.

Diet

Mostly insects. Diet is not known in detail, but feeds mostly on insects, including beetles, flies, grasshoppers, and many others. In the tropics, also eats many berries and small fruits. One Costa Rica study found that it rarely also eats small frogs.


Nesting

Both parents may chase away larger birds from vicinity of nest, but often seem to tolerate other kingbirds (Western and Cassin's) near nest tree in Arizona; 3 species of kingbirds may nest in same grove of trees. Nest: Placed on horizontal branch or in fork of tree, 6-40' above the ground, usually lower than 25'. Nest (built by female) is a shallow cup of twigs, grasses, stems, bark, plant fibers, lined with plant down, moss, other fine materials.

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

Migration

Over most of its tropical range, probably a permanent resident. Those found recently in southern Texas have remained through the winter. Arizona birds strictly migratory, arriving in late spring and departing in early fall. Every fall, small numbers of young birds wander north (probably from western Mexico) along Pacific coast to California (rarely farther north), sometimes remaining through winter.

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Migration

Over most of its tropical range, probably a permanent resident. Those found recently in southern Texas have remained through the winter. Arizona birds strictly migratory, arriving in late spring and departing in early fall. Every fall, small numbers of young birds wander north (probably from western Mexico) along Pacific coast to California (rarely farther north), sometimes remaining through winter.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Twittering trills.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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