Photo: Manuel Grosselet/Vireo

Western Kingbird

Tyrannus verticalis

In open country of the west, the Western Kingbird is often seen perched on roadside fences and wires, flying out to snap up insects -- or to harass ravens, hawks, or other large birds that stray too close to the kingbird's nest. Spunky and adaptable, this flycatcher has adjusted well to advancing civilization within its range. It frequently builds its nest where wires attach to utility poles, and may be seen tending its young there even along busy city streets.
Conservation status Has expanded breeding range eastward and increased in numbers during 20th century. Population now stable or possibly still increasing.
Family Tyrant Flycatchers
Habitat Semi-open country, farms, roadsides, towns. Breeds in open terrain with trees to provide nest sites; may be in farmland, groves or streamside trees in prairie country, semi-desert scrub; avoids true desert. Also in towns; where trees are lacking, will nest on artificial structures. Where ranges overlap, typically in more open country than Eastern or Cassin's kingbirds.
In open country of the west, the Western Kingbird is often seen perched on roadside fences and wires, flying out to snap up insects -- or to harass ravens, hawks, or other large birds that stray too close to the kingbird's nest. Spunky and adaptable, this flycatcher has adjusted well to advancing civilization within its range. It frequently builds its nest where wires attach to utility poles, and may be seen tending its young there even along busy city streets.
Photo Gallery
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Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly by watching from a perch and then flying out to snap up insects in its bill. May perch low or high; may catch insects in mid-air, or may hover and then drop to the ground to catch them.


Eggs

3-5, rarely up to 7. Whitish, heavily blotched with brown, lavender, and black. Incubation is mostly or entirely by female, about 18-19 days. Young: Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave nest about 16-17 days after hatching.


Young

Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave nest about 16-17 days after hatching.

Diet

Mostly insects. Feeds on a wide variety of insects, especially wasps, bees, beetles, and grasshoppers, also flies, true bugs, caterpillars, moths, and many others. Also eats some spiders and millipedes, and regularly eats small numbers of berries and fruits.


Nesting

Male defends territory by singing, giving "dawn song" incessantly at first hint of daylight. In courtship, male performs flight display, rapidly flying up and down in vertical zigzags, giving rapid sputtering calls. Nest site varies, usually in tree in vertical fork or on horizontal limb, 15-30' above ground. Also often nests on utility poles, sometimes on building ledges or towers, in empty sheds, on cliff ledges, or in abandoned nests of other birds. Nest (probably built by both sexes) is a cup of grass, weeds, twigs, plant fibers, lined with finer materials such as feathers, plant down, animal hair, bits of paper.

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

Migration

Often migrates in small flocks. A few stray eastward every fall, appearing along Atlantic Coast, some of these birds moving south to winter in Florida.

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Migration

Often migrates in small flocks. A few stray eastward every fall, appearing along Atlantic Coast, some of these birds moving south to winter in Florida.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A loud, sharp kit. Various chattering notes.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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