Vancouver Avian Research Centre

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Species: Western Kingbird Tyrannus verticalis

Description:

Perched with regal air on an old fence post or hawking with graceful flight low over the fields, the Western Kingbird is one of the most charismatic of Colony Farm’s birds. The largest of British Columbia’s flycatchers, this iconic bird of open country is characterized by a yellow “butter belly”, grey back, long elegant tail and pugnacious attitude. The Western Kingbird is found throughout the North American west, but is rare in the lower mainland, with Colony Farm as one of the best places to see them.

Identification:

A large tyrant flycatcher, 8.75” long with a 15.5” wingspan, usually conspicuously perched in open grassland and meadows. Identifiable by a grey-green back, grey head with a white chin and pale grey breast, bright yellow belly and long black tail. This bird exhibits a leisurely robin-like flight, usually hawking low over the fields. Though rarely seen, the Western Kingbird sports a small red crown most visible during courtship, which along with their imperious character is the source of their royal name.

Adult Male: Males and Females are identical.

Adult Female: Males and Females are identical.

Juvenile: Paler belly, breast, and head than the adult.

Similar Species: Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus, tryannus): Similar habitat and appearance but with dark grey upper body, black head, and all white breast and belly.

Behaviour: Perches on exposed stumps and fence posts, hawks low over the fields. Famous for its territoriality and aggression, even towards raptors and other potential predators. The male has a spectacular courtship display in which he shows off his aerial prowess in a dramatic array of twists and tumbles as he descends (sometimes from over sixty feet) to an accompaniment of spirited trills.

Habitat: Open country, dry rangeland, and riparian areas with trees and perches in vicinity. Readily makes use of wire and fence posts for nesting.

Information:

Feeds primarily on insects, but also enjoys berries on occasion. A neo-tropical migrant, they spend their winter from Mexico southward, returning to delight us in May and June. Clutches vary in size according to insect populations, with the parents laying earlier, laying more eggs, and with the young growing more quickly when insects are abundant.

Conservation Status:

Fortunately the Western Kingbird has done quite well for itself, benefiting from increased agricultural clearing and is in fact expanding its range eastward.
 

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