The aggressive Eastern Kingbird is known for its habitat of chasing potential predators and brood parasites which it detects easily from its prominent perch. It also uses exposed perches to watch for flying insects which it sallies forth to snap up. This foraging behavior is particularly appropriate during breeding season when kingbirds are feeding high protein food (primarily insects) to their nestlings and fledglings On their wintering grounds in tropical forests of South America Eastern Kingbird switches to a diet of fruit as do many other migrants from North America (Murphy.1996).
The species is easily distinguished visually by its striking black and white plumage and its use of exposed perches (for plumage details see Murphy 1996 and Pyle 1997).
DISTRIBUTION. During the 1987-1992 field work for the TBBA project, atlasers found Eastern Kingbirds nesting over a large area of Texas. Almost all confirmed records were found east of a line from the intersection of the 28th parallel and the coast to the northwest corner of the Panhandle.
North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) observers detected this species on 89 routes in the state at relative abundances ranging from 3-10 kingbirds per 40 km (25 mi) route along the Louisiana border and the northeast corner of the Panhandle. Detections per route fell to the west and south (Sauer et al. 2005).
In other areas, Eastern Kingbirds breed from northwest Canada across to Quebec and Nova Scotia and south through Washington and eastern Oregon then southeast through Wyoming, Colorado and Oklahoma to the Gulf Coast. The species winters in Amazonia (Sooth America) and migrates there and back largely though Middle America and Texas (Howell and Webb 1995, Murphy 1996).
SEASONAL OCCURRENCE. Northbound migrants have been found in Texas between February 23 and June 1 while most pass through between late March and mid-May. Breeding occurs from late April to early August with eggs found from May 2 to June 22 and young in a nest as late as July 31. Fall migrants are present from about August 1 to November 17 with most movement between mid-August and early October (Oberholser 1974, Lockwood and Freeman 2004).
BREEDING HABITAT. In Texas Eastern Kingbirds prefer to breed at woodland edges, in pastures, orchards, trees on stream banks or in parks. The presence of water or moist habitats which probably increase the supply of its insect prey also seems important (Oberholser 1974). In Oklahoma atlasers also mentioned hedgerows and shelterbelts (Smith 2004).
The female lays 3-5 smooth, slightly glossy, creamy white eggs (indistinguishable from those of Western Kingbird [Tyrannus verticalis] and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher [T. forficatus]). She incubates the eggs for 12-13 days and the young normally leave the nest 16-17 days after hatching. Pairs raise 1 brood per season. The species ejects Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater) eggs, but may also be parasitized by other Eastern Kingbirds (Oberholser 1974, Harrison 1979, Murphy 1996).
STATUS. Lockwood and Freeman (2004) rate the Eastern Kingbird as a common to uncommon summer resident and migrant in eastern Texas. BBS data produce a 95% confidence interval (There is a 95% chance that the actual population trend will be between these two numbers.) of -2.5 to +0.4%, compared to a statistically significant trend of -0.9% change per year for the United States and Canada for the period 1966-2004 (Sauer et al. 2005).
This relatively modest rate of decline and the similarity of the TBBA map to that of Oberholser (1974) as well as the location of Texas on the migration route of this widespread species suggests Eastern Kingbird will continue to be a conspicuous bird in eastern Texas.
Text by Robert C. Tweit (2005)
Harrison, H. H. 1979. A field guide to western birds’ nests. Houghton Mifflin, Boston, MA.
Howell, S. N. G. and S. Webb. 1995. A guide to the birds of Mexico and northern Central America. Oxford University Press, New York.
Lockwood, M. W. and B. Freeman. 2004. The TOS handbook of Texas birds. Texas A&M University Press, College Station.
Murphy, M. T. 1996. Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus). In The birds of North America, No. 253 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
Oberholser, H. C. 1974. The bird life of Texas. University of Texas Press, Austin.
Pyle, P. 1997. Identification guide to North American birds, part 1. Slate Creek Press, Bolinas, CA.
Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, and J. Fallon. 2005. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results and analysis 1966-2004. Version 2005.1. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel MD (Web site, http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs).
Smith, G. A/ 2004. Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus). In Oklahoma breeding bird atlas, pp. 248-249. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.