Western Kingbird

Tyrannus verticalis
Range Map

Truly a bird of the western USA. In summer, we find Western Kingbirds in nearly every state west of the Mississippi River. In winter, they retreat into southwestern Mexico and Central America.

In former times, this bird was called the “Arkansas Kingbird.” In winter, these birds head south to the Pacific slopes of southern Mexico and Central America.

In southern California, where I grew up, migrating Western Kingbirds pass through on their way north to breed. They might be confused with the Cassin’s Kingbirds I see and hear year-round. I find it easiest to look at the tails of these two birds for identity clues. The Cassin’s Kingbirds have a pale band at the tip of their tail feathers forming a band. While the Western Kingbirds have a pale edge, on both the left and right side of their tails.

Taxonomists regard the Western Kingbird as monotypic (i.e. there are no subspecies).

After visiting Texas for the first time in the spring of 2020, I left the Lower Rio Grande Valley and crossed through the heart of the state. Almost as soon as I left the Rio Grande in Laredo, I found Western Kingbirds to be quite common. At a state rest area near Botines, I met a pair of these birds building a nest at eye-level only a few feet from a picnic bench. I was amazed and mildly disgusted at the items they brought to the nest for its construction. The plastic twine and scraps of paper didn’t much bother me. When I saw filters from cigarette butts being used, I thought “what’s this world coming to?”

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