Cassin’s Kingbird

Tyrannus vociferans
Range Map

The Cassin’s Kingbird is found in Southern California year round. Their breeding range includes the southern Rocky Mountain states (Arizona & New Mexico) and south into central Mexico.

Taxonomists call out two subspecies of Cassin’s Kingbird:

  • T. v. vociferans breeds in west-central USA, from Montana, through Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, California, southeastern Nevada, southern Utah and Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, west Texas, Baja California, and south from Sonora and Chihuahua to Oaxaca (Mexico). They spend winter in southern Baja California, Chiapas and northwestern Central America.
  • T. v. xenopterus lives in the high country of Guerrero in southwestern Mexico.

Near my home in southern California is one of the few locations in the USA where we can find these birds year-round.

Often, kingbirds can be challenging to identify in the field, so similar are their markings. In Texas, there is the problematic Couch’s and Tropical Kingbirds. Only by voice can they be differentiated. In San Diego (California), the challenge comes twice annually, when Western Kingbirds move through the region on their way to, or coming back from their breeding grounds. Western Kingbirds sometimes nest in the nearby hill country, but most move further north. During migrations when both Cassin’s and Western Kingbirds are here, observing the tails of these species is helpful. The Cassin’s Kingbird’s tail feathers are tipped in white, reminiscent of the Eastern Kingbird, while the Western Kingbird’s tail is lined on outermost feathers. So white tips mean Cassin’s, and white edges mean Western.

Besides the Cassin’s Kingbirds near my southern California home, I’ve enjoyed their company in southern Arizona’s Arivaca Cienega, and more recently in west Texas’s Davis Mountains.

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