Couch’s Kingbird

Tyrannus couchii
Range Map

This bird is nearly identical in appearance to the Tropical Kingbird. Once thought to be a subspecies of the Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus), now science views it as its own species. There are no subspecies recognised (i.e. they are monotypic). Where their ranges overlap, only by hearing it can you be sure of its identity.

The Couch’s Kingbirds live from Yucatan in the south and along the gulf coast to southern Texas, where we find them year-round. During the summer, some birds will range slightly north into Central Texas and then retreat south after breeding.

They named this bird in honor of Major General Darius Nash Couch, a respected soldier in the US Army. Prior to the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, he took leave from the military and worked for the Smithsonian for two years (1853-1854) on a scientific mission in northern Mexico. We credit him for discovering the kingbird that now bears his name and a toad, now named the Couch’s Spadefoot Toad. During this period in his life, he also contracted an illness that plagued him for the rest of his life.

I first met the Couch’s Kingbird near the Visitor Center at Aransas NWR (Texas) in March 2020. My intentions for the visit were to meet the Whooping Cranes on the reserve, so I didn’t get the pictures of them I might have otherwise done. It was later, while staying in Brownsville (Texas), that I became better acquainted with them.

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