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Eastern Kingbird

Common Name: Eastern Kingbird.

Scientific Name: Tyrannus Tyrannus.

What to look for?  Look for a bird following a business dress code in black and white. The Eastern Kingbird is blackish above - and darker on the head - and white below. This bird is big-headed and broad-shouldered with an upright posture. It has a white-tipped square tail. The bill is relatively short and straight. The Eastern Kingbird has a crown of yellow, orange, or red feathers on its head, but keeps concealed until it encounters a predator.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? Eastern Kingbirds may be seen around our ponds during the summer months, typically perched in a tree.

How big are they? The Eastern Kingbird averages approximately eight (8) inches in length. And their wingspan is approximately fourteen (14) inches. They weigh in at around one and one-half (1.5) ounces.

What are their flight patterns? Eastern Kingbirds fly in a fluttering direct style. Their wing beats are shallow and without gliding.

How else do they behave? Eastern Kingbirds are creatures of the air. They fly in pursuit of insects, to chase out intruders, or to deliver food to nests. Each pair maintains a loosely defined breeding territory and usually reunites there in the following year. Male Eastern Kingbirds are very aggressive in territorial disputes and to keep out large nest predators like Crows and Blue Jays. Eastern Kingbirds do not walk or hop, but, instead, they fly from place to place. They are very social, forming large flocks during migration and staying in smaller flocks of during the winter.

What’s for dinner? Eastern Kingbirds feed on insects during spring migration and on the breeding range, including bees, wasps, ants, beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, locusts, bugs, and flies. They supplement their insect diet with fruit, including mulberries, serviceberries, cherries, blackberries, and elderberries, particularly as the summer progresses and fall migration occurs as well as on their wintering grounds.

Where do they take up residence? Eastern Kingbirds are native to North America. They reside throughout most of eastern U.S. and the Pacific northwest as well as much of southern and central Canada. They winter in South America. Eastern Kingbirds require open space for hunting and trees for nesting. Their preferred habitat ranges from clearings within forest to open grassland with few scattered trees and around edges of marshes, farmland, native tallgrass prairie.

When and where do they breed and nest?

Eastern Kingbirds breed from April through June. They nest high up in trees; typically, ten feet or more above the ground. Most breeding occurs between late April and mid-May. The female lays a single clutch of around three (3) eggs and incubates over the two (2) weeks. The young fledge in about two (2) weeks and become independent and fly in one (1) month.

Where do they migrate? Eastern Kingbirds are long-distance migrants, wintering in South America. They migrate by day in small flocks. They may stop for short breaks along the way.

What is their conservation status? There is no concern. Eastern Kingbirds are numerous and widespread, although populations decreased by 47% over the past five decades, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of twenty-seven (27) million. The Eastern Kingbird is not on the 2016 State of North America's Birds' Watch List and are considered "least concern" by the IUCN. They are protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Act.

Do they make any interesting sounds? Eastern Kingbirds use a variety of vocalizations to communicate, especially during the breeding season. Here is a link to the sounds of the Eastern Kingbird.

Interesting Facts About the Eastern Kingbird:

  • The scientific name ‘Tyrannus’ means “tyrant, despot, or king,” referring to the aggression kingbirds exhibit with each other and with other species.

  • Kingbirds are “passerines,” a taxonomic group commonly referred to as perching birds or songbirds, but are in a different subgroup from true songbirds, and they don’t have nearly as complex voices.

  • The oldest known Eastern Kingbird lived almost 10 years.

  • Eastern Kingbirds apparently rely almost completely on insects and fruit for moisture and are rarely seen drinking water.

For more information on Eastern Kingbirds and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit All About Birds, Audubon Society, University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web, and the Missouri Department of Conservation.  And the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides a wonderful source of information for anyone interested in learning more about birds.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, plants and insects. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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