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Western Kingbird

A medium-sized flycatcher that is found in western North America, from Alaska to Panama. It has a gray head and back, white underparts, a black tail with white outer feathers, and a distinctive yellow or orange patch on its crown. The Western Kingbird is known for its aggressive behavior, often chasing away larger birds that come too close to its nest or feeding area. It feeds primarily on insects, which it catches in mid-air or picks off of vegetation.

Broadly distributed as a nesting species in the western U.S. and southwestern Canada, the Western Kingbird has also been expanding its range eastward in recent years. Western Kingbirds migrate during the day, either singly or in small flocks. Males establish territories which vary in size at different times of the nesting cycle.

Western Kingbirds are very aggressive in defending their nests, and actively mob potential predators such as hawks, crows, and owls. In years when insects are very abundant, Western Kingbirds have been shown to nest earlier in the year.

Western Kingbird

Description of the Western Kingbird


Western Kingbird Western Kingbird


Length: 9 inches
Wing span: 15 inches

The Western Kingbird is a flycatcher with a gray head, white throat and breast, yellow belly and flanks, grayish-green upperparts, and a black tail with narrow, white outer edges.


Sexes similar.

Seasonal change in appearance



Juveniles are similar, but paler yellow below.


Western Kingbirds inhabit farms, roadsides, and woodland edges.


Western Kingbirds eat flying insects, as well as some fruits and berries.


Western Kingbirds forage primarily by flycatching from an exposed perch.


Western Kingbirds breed from southern Canada south throughout most of the western and central U.S. They winter in Mexico and Central America.  The population appears to be stable overall, but the range has spread eastward in recent years.

Fun Facts

Western Kingbirds eat many wasps and bees.

Western Kingbirds are prone to occur as vagrants in the eastern U.S. during the fall season.


The typical song is a rapid, sqeaky series of notes such as “kidik kidik kidik kidik.”

Similar Species

  • The Cassin’s Kingbird has a dark gray breast and head, with a white malar stripe and a white-tipped black tail.


The Western Kingbird’s nest is a cup of twigs, grasses, and weeds placed on a tree branch or utility tower.

Number: Usually lay 4 eggs.
Color: White with darker markings.

Incubation and fledging:
The young hatch at about 14 days and fledge at about 13-19 days.

Bent Life History of the Western Kingbird

Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.

Bent Life History for the Western Kingbird – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.


We formerly regarded the Arkansas kingbird as a western bird, when it was known by the appropriate name of western kingbird. It was then merely a straggler east of the Mississippi River and was more or less rare as a wanderer or as a migrant in the States irmuediately west of that river. And, as a straggler, it wandered as far east as the Atlantic States during the latter half of the nineteenth century. For example, there is an early record for Eliot, Maine, in October 1864 (Haven, 1926), and one for Riverdale, N. Y., on October 19, 1875 (Bicknell, 1879). Since what is apparently the first Massachusetts record, Chatham, October 20, 1912 (Kennard, 1913), there have been so many New England records that this bird might almost be considered a frequent visitor. And since the beginning of the twentieth century there have been numerous records from other Atlantic Coast States: New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, and Florida.

There is abundant evidence, also, that this kingbird has been extending its wanderings, and even its breeding range, eastward in the interior during the past 40 years. Without devoting too much space to the subject, it seems worth while to cite a few examples. Referring to Manitoba, P. A. Taverner (1927) says: “This species is another recent arrival in Manitoba. E. T. Seton does not mention it in his 1891 list of ‘Birds of Manitoba’ and gives only adjoining records in his ‘Fauna of Manitoba,’ 1909. The first record for the province appears to have been a specimen taken at Oak Lake, August 10, 1907.” Other records followed until now he calls it “rather common throughout southwestern Manitoba.”

For Minnesota, Dr. Thomas S. Roberts (1932) writes: “Three pairs were found in the Big Stone-Traverse lakes region in June, 1879 by Franklin Benner and the writer, the first record for the state; in 1889 it was found by Cautwell in Lac qui Pane County; in 1893 it was present in Pipestone (Roberts) and Otter Tail (Gault) counties and by 1898 had become a common nesting bird all over southwestern Minnesota as far east as Redwood, Cottonwood, and Jackson counties.” Later on, it extended its range farther north until it is “now an abundant summer resident throughout the western prairie portion of the state”; and “it has increased rapidly and spread eastward until in recent years it has reached the eastern part of the state south of the evergreen forests.”

Arkansas kingbirds have been seen in summer and collected in breeding condition in Michigan since 1925 (Van Tyne, 1933), indicating an extension of range eastward from Minnesota. And now comes a breeding record for Ohio. Louis W. Campbell (1934), referring to a sight record in Lucas County in 1931, reports: “On July 29, 1933, some three miles east of the location of the sight record mentioned above I found a family of Arkansas kingbirds consisting of one adult and three young. * * * Two of the young, a male and a female, were collected. Although both of these birds were well able to fly, all the tail feathers and all but two or three of the primaries were still more than one-fourth sheathed. The condition of these feathers and general lack of development pointed to the conclusion that the birds had been out of the nest only a short time.”

A similar eastward advance has been noted farther south around the turn of the century in Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Swenk and Dawson (1921) tell the story for Nebraska; and Mrs. Nice (1931a) gives the records for Oklahoma. If this kingbird continues to advance, it may yet reach Arkansas and its name may be justified.

The Arkansas kingbird is a bird of the open country, associated in my mind with the prairie regions of the Middle West, the ranches and tree claims and the timber belts along the streams. In southwestern Saskatchewan, in 1905 and 1906, we found this kingbird breeding commonly in such situations, but it was not so common in the timber belts as the eastern kingbird and was more likely to be seen about the ranch buildings and railroad stations.

As to its haunts in Minnesota, Dr. Roberts (1932) says: “On the prairies this bird avoids the natural groves of timber, seeking the vicinity of habitations. Where there are no buildings on a~treeclaim or the farm is deserted it is rarely found, probably because there is less insect food where there are no cattle. The bird invades the towns everywhere and builds commonly in the shade trees even on business streets. At times it wanders far from home out over the prairies, and may frequently be seen perched on a wire or fence at a considerable distance from woodlands.”

In Cochise County, Ariz., we found the Arkansas kingbird abundant at the lower levels, on the soapweed plains, about the ranches, and along the dry washes, where there were trees, but not venturing far up into the timbered canyons. Evidently the birds prefer the open country to the more restricted canyons.

Courtship: I have never seen the courtship performance of this bird, but E. S. Cameron (1907) makes the following brief statement in regard to it: “The male indulges in a curious display when courting the female. He makes successive darts in the air, fluttering, vibrating his quills, and trilling as he shoots forward. Propelling himself thus for several hundred yards, he looks like a bird gone mad.”

Nesting: The Arkansas kingbird builds its nest in a great variety of situations, almost anywhere except on the ground. It apparently prefers to build in trees, where suitable trees are available, which very often is not the case. If in a tree, the nest may be placed against the trunk, in a crotch, or, more often, out on a horizontal branch, or occasionally on a dead branch. It may be placed at any height from 8 to 40 feet above the ground, but oftener 15 to 30 feet. Nests may also be placed on bushes as low as 5 feet from the ground. Sometimes several pairs build their nests close together in a grove or small group of trees; and two or more nests have been found in a single tree on rare occasions. The trees most often chosen are cottonwoods, oaks, sycamores, and willows, perhaps because they happen to be the commonest trees available. Nests have also been recorded in elms, eucalyptus, junipers, apple trees and other orchard trees, locusts, aspens, alders, and rarely pines; probably a number of others might be added to the list, for these birds do not seem to be at all particular in their choice. Claude T. Barnes writes to me that he has many times noted the fondness of these birds for locust trees, and thinks this may be due to their height and comparative openness of foliage. These kingbirds seem to prefer an open situation where they can command a clear outlook.

Most of the nests that I have seen have been in trees, but in Alberta near Many Island Lake, on June 16, 1906,. we stopped to examine a Swainson’s hawk’s nest that was situated in a little patch of large brush on a steep hillside; the hawk flew from the nest as we approached; and within a few yards of the hawk’s nest we found an Arkansas kingbird’s nest with three fresh eggs in it; it was placed only 5 feet from the ground in a “stony berry bush.” On the soap’weed plains in Cochise County, Ariz., on June 1, 1922, while we were hunting for nests of Scott’s oriole, we found a nest of this kingbird ï built in the upright, dead flower stalk of a soapweed yucca 14 feet from the ground.

Where no suitable trees are available, the Arkansas kingbird is most adaptable and versatile in the selection of a nesting site, king satisfied to utilize ahnost any form of human structure that will hold its nest, preferably such stable structures as telephone or telegraph poles, fence posts, stationary towers, parts of buildings, or boxes set up for that purpose; but in many cases the chosen site is far from stationary or secure, with resulting disaster. The following quota tions will illustrate its versatility.

Major Bendire (1895) writes:

Mr. William U. Smith Informs me that in Colorado they nest occasionally on ledges. Dr. C. T. Cooke writes me that a pair of these birds nested In the summer of 1891 In a church steeple In Salem, Oregon, and Mr. Elmer T. Judd, of Cando, North Dakota, informs me that he found a nest on a beam of a rail road windmill pump, about 6 feet from the ground, where trains passed close by the nest constantly; another was found by him on a gralnbinder which was standing within a couple of rods of a public schoolhouse.

I have examined many of their nests in various parts of the West. * * * One nest was placed In the top of a hollow cottonwood stump, the rim of the nest being flush with the top; another pair made use of an old nest of the Western Robin; and still another built on the sill of one of the attic windows of my quarters at Fort Lapwnl, Idaho. They probably would not have suc ceeded In keeping this nest in place had I not nailed a piece of board along the outside to prevent the wind from blowing the materials away as fast as the birds could bring them. They were persistent, however, and not easily dis couraged, working hard for a couple of days in trying to secure a firm founda tion before I came to their assistance. Both birds were equally diligent in the construction of their home until it was nearly finished, when the female did most of the arranging of the inner lining, and many a consultation was evi dently indulged in between the pair before the nest was finally ready for occu pation, a low twittering being kept up almost constantly. It took just a week to build It.

John G. Tyler (1913), writing of the Fresno district, Calif., says:

Formerly they resorted to the framework of flumes, windmills, outbuildings, and even the tops of fence posts; but of recent years the rural telephone lines that have thrown their network of wires and poles all over the valley have provided nesting sites galore, and of a kind seemingly exactly suited to the requirements of these birds. * * * Where the lines cross entrances to farmhouses or Intersecting roads, * * * the wires are raised several feet.

* ï * This additional height is attained by nailing two two-inch pieces to the original pole on opposite sides, thus leaving a four inch platform protected on two sides, in which a nest just fits sungly. A drive through the country during the summer months now reveals a pair of kiaghirds tenanted In nearly every such pole.

Lee Raymond Dice (1918) mentions a liest near Wallula, Wash., on a hay derrick; the bird remained on the nest even while the derrick was in use; a nest was observed in a barn, and another on a fence post, in the bunchgrass hills; he also saw a nest on a rocky cliff. J. A. Munro (1919) says that in the Okanagan Valley “for two seasons, a pair built in the eaves-trough of” his “house, directly over the vent. Both years the eggs were destroyed by rain storms and washed into the rain barrel. * * * The residents along some of the country roads nail up small soap or starch boxes on their gate-posts for the reception of milk bottles, etc.; these are frequently used as nesting sites. I have known them to build on a ledge above the kitchen door of a farm house, which was opened and shut fifty times during the day. Frequently they used abandoned Flicker holes, or the roughened, decayed top of a fence post.”

Clarence Hamilton Kennedy (1915) has published an interesting paper on the adaptability of this kingbird, illustrated with drawings of nesting sites, including one in an old nest of Bullock’s oriole.

The Arkansas kingbird is ahnost as versatile in its selection of nesting materials as it is adaptable in its choice of a site. Bendire (1895) gives this general description of the nests: “Generally they are compactly built structures, the foundation and outer walls being composed of weed stems, fine twigs, plant fibers, and rootlets, intermixed with wool, cocoons, hair, feathers, bits of string, cottonwood, milkweed, and thistle down, or pieces of paper, and lined with finer materials of the same kind.” He says that a typical nest “measures 6 inches in outer diameter by B in depth; the inner cup is 3 inches wide by 1~/4 deep.”

Lt. C. A. H. McCauley (1877) describes a pretty nest, made by a pair of these birds in a cottonwood tree in Texas, as follows:

Using large quantities of the fibrous, coarse cotton of the tree, They had matted this well for fully an inch above the limbs; through which, well interwoven, ran hits of sage-brush, coarse grasses, and fine twigs, with a few dried leaves. Above this part came finer grasses and small fibrous roots, whilst for the interior they had apparently carefully selected choice bits of cotton, at times arranged In strata, over which was buffalo-wool liberally placed and neatly fastened and bound with finest threads. The lining of the Interior was unusually soft, being padded In a peculiar manner with the wool itself within. In the homes of the two preceding species [swallow-tailed flycatcher and eastern kingbird], the eggs rest upon the slender roots and threads which thickly cover and hind together the underlying wool; but this flycatcher Is more select; be fastens the tufts of wool below in such a way That the eggs have a restingplace almost as soft as down, and the intertwining threads are scarcely visible.

The nests that I have seen have been made of many of the materials listed above by Bendire and constructed in much the same manner. In all cases the interior has been thickly and warmly lined with firmly matted, or felted, cow’s hair, sheep’s wool, cotton, or cottonwood down. Cow’s hair is easily obtainable about the cattle ranches and is freely used. On the sheep ranges, the barbed-wire fences are well decorated with wool, offering a bountiful supply of this desirable material. About the poultry yards and farms the kingbirds make free use of hen’s feathers both in the body of the nest and decoration around the rim, where the upstanding feathers not only add to the beauty of the nest, but help to conceal the sitting bird; one especially pretty nest was profusely decorated with brown hen’s feathers around the rim and was lined with white hen’s feathers and thistledown, making a pleasing contrast.

R. C. Tate (1925) says that in Oklahoma these birds use “seven and eight inch pieces of the thin inner bark from dead cottonwood trees, rags, string, sandbur rootlets, horse-hair, wool from old sheep carcasses, and cotton from discarded quilts. Pieces of dried snakeskin are frequently made use of also.”

Eggs: The Arkansas kingbird lays three to five eggs, usually four, and occasionally six and even seven. They are almost exactly like those of the eastern kingbird, though averaging slightly smaller. The shape is ovate or short-ovate as a rule, but sometimes elongated-ovate or even elliptical-ovate. The ground color varies from pure white to pinkish white, or creamy white, and the eggs are more or less heavily marked with small spots or blotches of various browns, “chestnutbrown,” “chocolate,” “liver brown,” or “claret brown,” with underlying spots and blotches of different shades of “Quaker drab,” “heliotrope gray,” or “lavender.” The markings are sometimes grouped about the larger end. The measurements o~ 50 eggs averaged 23.5 by 17.7 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 26.4 by 18.8, 25.4 by 19.1, and 19.8 by 15.7 millimeters.

Young: The period of incubation, as given by different observers, is said to be 12, 13, or 14 days. Major Bendire (1895) says:

This duty is mostly performed by the female, but I have also seen the male on the nest, and he can generally be observed close by, on the look out for danger. Both parents are exceedingly courageous in the defense of their nest and young, and every bird of this species in the neighborhood will quickly come to the rescue and help to drive intruders off as soon as one gives the alarm. The young grow rapidly and are able to leave the nest in about two weeks. They consume an Immense amount of food, certainly fully their own weight in a day. I have often watched the family previously referred to, raised on the sill of my attic window, and also fed them with the bodies of the large black crickets while one of the parents was looking on, and apparently approvingly, within a few feet of me. I have stuffed them until it seemed impossible for them to hold any more, but there was no satisfying them; it certainly keeps the parents busy from early morning till late at night to supply their always hungry family. They are readily tamed when taken young, and are very intelligent, making interesting pets [see Ridgway, 1889, and Pinckney, 1938]. 1 believe that only one brood, as a rule, is raised in a season, excepting possibly In the extreme southern portions of their range, in southern Arizona and California, as I found fresh eggs on Rillito Creek, near Tucson, as late as July ~O, in a iocality where these birds had not been previously disturbed, which seems to Indicate that they occasionally may rear a second brood.

Mrs. Irene G. Wheelock (1904) says of the young:

At first they are fed by regurgitation, but after the third day large insects are torn apart and given fresh. Fourteen crickets in ten minutes was the record of one busy forager. ï * * In two weeks the babies have grown so that they overflow tbe nest, and one baiances himself outside. And now his lessons begin. As soon as he has learned to use his wings he is taught to catch his food in the same way in which he must obtain it all his life. I have seen the parent bring a dragonfly or other insect, alight with it opposite above the young bird, and call his attention to it in a peculiar low twitter. Then, when quite ready, he releases ihe prey, which half falls, half flutters, downward. Nearly always the nestling is out after it and back with it in his beak before you can realize how it Is (lone. Many times we have watched them, and the lesson is always given in this way, and always repeated until there can be no fear of missing. Then the young are taken to the meadows and taught to dart down after butterflies or grasshoppers. In some way they learn that the worker bees have stings and amat not be caught, but that the drones are delicious morsels.

Plumages: I have not, seen the natal down, which is probably gray, as in the eastern kingbird. The juvenal plumage is largely acquired before the young bird leaves the nest, except that the wings and tail are not fully grown. In this plumage the sexes are alike, and both lack the orange crown patch; the crown is “pale smoke gray” with pale edgings, tbe back “ecru-olive,” the rump and upper tail coverts pale “clove brown”; the tail is dull black, tipped with pale brownish, and the outer webs of the outer rectrices are white; the wings are pale “clove brown,” with yellowish white edgings; the throat and chest are “pale smoke gray,” and the abdomen is “empire yellow”; the first primary is not attenuated.

This plumage is worn through the summer and most of the fall; I have seen birds in this plumage that do not show much sign of molt even in November; one, taken November 19, stilL wears the juvenal plumage, but the wings and tail are somewhat worn, as if there was to be a complete postjuvenal molt. Usually the postjuvenlil molt is accomplished mainly in October and November, and the first winter plumage is assumed, in which old and young birds become indistinguishable; the orange crown patch is acquired and the three outer primaries are attenuated at their tips. There is, apparently, a partial molt of the body plumage in March and April, a few new feathers showing among the older, faded ones of the winter plumage. There is a complete postnuptial molt in August and September.

Food: Professor Beal (1912) in his study of the food of the Arkansas kingbird, examined the contents of 109 stomachs and reports that: The food is found to consist of 90.61 per cent of animal matter to 9.89 per cent of vegetable. Of the animal portion, Hymenoptera (bees and wasps), Coleoptera (beetles), and Orthoptera (grasshoppers) constitute over threefourths.

Beetles of all kinds amount to 17.02 per cent of the food, and include 547 per cent of useful species, mostly Carabtdae and Cicindelidae. For a flycatcher this is a large record of these useful beetles, as they are lnrgely groundinhabiting species and not so often on the wing as most others. The remainder, 11.55 per cent, are either harmful or neutral. No special pests were found among them. Bymenoptera (bees and wasps) are the largest Item of animal food and amount to 31.38 per cent. * * * Orthoptera (grasshoppers, crickets, etc.) stand next to Hymenoptera In the diet of the Arkansas kingbird. * * The total for the year is 27.78 per cent. It is a singular fact that several western species of flycatchers eat more grasshoppers than do the meadowlark and blackbirds, which ohtain their food almost wholly upon the ground. The reverse is the case with the corresponding eastern birds. The orthopterous food consists almost entirely of grasshoppers with very few crickets.

The remainder of the animal food consists of bugs, flies, “and a few other miscellaneous insects, millepeds and spiders, the bones of tree frogs in 3 stomachs, and egg shells, apparently those of domestic fowl.” He lists in the insect food 8 species of Hymenoptera, 24 of Coleoptera, 1 of Diptera, and 7 of Ilemiptera (bugs).

Of the vegetable food, he says: “Although vegetable food amounts to 9.39 per cent, it presents but little variety. A few weed seeds occurred in one stomach. Seed and skins of elderberries (Sambucu8) were found in 11 stomachs, woodbine (P8edera) in 2, hawthorn berries (Crataegus) in 1, an olive in 1, and skin and pulp of fruit not further identified in 2.”

As to the destruction of bees, of which this kingbird has been accused, Beal writes elsewhere (1910) “It is said that the birds linger about the hlves and snap up the bees as they return home laden with honey. Remains of honey bees were searched for with special care, and were found to constitute 5 per cent of the food. Thirty-one individuals were discovered in 5 stomachs. Of these, 29 were drones, or males, and 2 were workers. In 3 stomachs containing males there was no other food, and when it is borne in mind that there are thousands of worker bees to one drone, it appears that the latter must be carefully selected. As a rule, the destruction of drones is not an injury to the colony, and often is a positive benefit.”

In the stomachs of California birds, he found that “miscellaneous insects, consisting of caterpillars and moths, a few bugs, flies, and a dragonfly, constituted 10 percent. Several stomachs contained a number of moths, and one was entirely filled with them.”

Like other flycatchers, the Arkansas kingbird captures most of its prey in the air, sallying out after flying insects, often from some low perch, such as a fence post or wire, a low tree or bush, or even the top of some tall weedstalk. Francis H. Allen saw one feeding near the seashore in Massachusetts, of which he says (MS.): “Its flight, as I saw it, was swallowlike, darting this way and that, but this may have been due to the abundance of the flies upon which it was feeding, which made it unnecessary to return to the perch after each capture. While it was perched on a point of rock near the beach, where the flies were particularly thick, it often simply reached out after a fly and picked it out of the air.”

The fact that so much of its food consists of grasshoppers and ground-inhabiting beetles indicates that much of its prey must be secured on or near the ground. Its fondness for grasshoppers is shown by the fact that Mr. Ridgway’s (1877) captive bird was fed 120 grasshoppers in one day.

Behavior: I cannot do better than to quote the following wellchosen words of Mrs. Bailey (1902b) on the behavior of this spirited bird:

The Arkansas kingbird is a masterful, positive character, and when you come Into his neighborhood you are very likely to know it, for he seems to be always screaming and scrimmaging. If he Is not overhead twisting and turning with wings open and square tail spread so wide that It shows the white Unes that border it, he Is climbing up the air claw to claw with a rival, falling to ground clinched with him, or dashing after a hawk, screaming In thin falsetto like a scissor-tail flycatcher. A passing enemy is allowed no time to loiter but driven from the field with impetuous onslaught and clang of trumpets. Be he crow, hawk, or owl, he is escorted to a safe distance, sometimes actually ridden by the angry kingbird, who, like the scissor-tail, enforces his screams with sharp pecks on the back.

While the above described behavior is doubtless characteristic, this bird is not always as hostile toward hawks as Mrs. Bailey’s remarks indicate. I found a pair of kingbirds occupying a nest within a few yards of an occupied nest of a Swainson’s hawk. And Major Bendire (1895) says: “They are undoubtedly more social than the common Kingbird, as I have seen two pairs nesting in the same tree, apparently living in perfect harmony with each other. While they are by no means devoid of courage, they appear to me to be much less quarrelsome on the whole than the former, and they are far more tolerant toward some of the larger Raptores. For instance, in the vicinity of Camp Harney, Oregon, I found a pair of these birds nesting in the same tree (a medium-sized pine) with Bullock’s Oriole and Swainson’s Hawk, and, as far as I could see, all were on excellent terms.”

Claude T. Barnes tells me that, in Utah, some of these kingbirds “were living in perfect harmony with Bullock orioles, mourning doves, yellow warblers and domestic sparrows.” But sometimes the kingbirds have to fight to protect their nests; M. French Gilman (1915) tells of such a case, where a Bendire’s thrasher tried to take possession of the kingbirds’ nest: “The Thrasher would bring some nesting material, and settle down in the nest. Then the Kingbirds would appear, scolding and trying to drive her away. As long as they kept flying at her she stayed on the nest, but if one came close and alighted she would fluff out her feathers and make a vicious dive at him, or her, as it might be. Had her mate been as much on the job the Kingbirds would have lost out, but he sang and did nothing else, so she finally gave it up, and the Kingbirds raised three young.”

Most observers agree that the Arkansas kingbird is intolerant toward intruders on its domain, just as the eastern kingbird is, and there is plenty of evidence to show that it will attack any hawk from a large redtail down to the little sparrow hawk, or any other large bird that comes too near its nest; and often, perhaps, it attacks them without any such good excuse. Mr. Swarth (1904) writes: “During the breeding season the large numbers of White-necked Ravens and Swainson Hawks found in the vicinity afford the Kingbirds exceptional opportunities for exhibiting their peculiar talents, and during the summer months these wretched birds’ lives are made a burden to them through the incessant persecution they receive. The hawks usually leave as soon as possible on being attacked; but the ravens, though beating a hasty retreat often try to fight back, twisting from side to side in vain endeavor to reach their diminutive assailant; cawing a vigorous protest, meanwhile, at being treated in such a disrespectful fashion.”

James B. Dixon tells me that he “noted one that was nesting in a sycamore where an eagle had a nest and was raising young. Every morning the kingbird spent. a good part of its time heckling the young eagle.”

Voice: Major Bendire (1895) gives a very good general idea of this, as follows: “This Flycatcher is, if anything, more noisy than our common eastern Kingbird, and utters also a greater variety of notes; some of these resemble the squeaking sounds of our Grackles; others are indifferent efforts at song: a low, warbling kind of twitter: while occasionally it gives utterance to shrill, metallic-sounding notes with more force to them than those of the Kingbird. During the mating season they are especially noisy, and begin their love songs, if they may be called such, at the earliest dawn, and keep up their concerts with but slight intermission during the greater part of the day; but after they are mated and nidification commences they are more quiet.”

He quotes R. H. Lawrence as follows: “On the night of July 30, 1893, I frequently heard a queer cry; sometimes only a single note, and again this was repeated three or four times, followed by a crying or wailing sound, as if made by a very young kitten. I heard these notes on successive nights. On August 2, about 4:30 a. I succeeded in shooting the performer out of a pepper tree standing close to the house, and it proved to be an Arkansas Flycatcher.”

Dr. 0. A. Stevens writes to me: “These birds are among the early risers. During midsummer they are about the first to be heard in the morning, before the first streaks of daylight have appeared. Dead limbs of trees and telephone wires are favorite perches. They seem to have essentially one note, and while they certainly do not sing, they make as much noise as any of our common birds. While sitting quietly they repeat at frequent intervals a single kip. Occasionally this is varied with a two-syllable quer-icli, and frequently a four-syflable, rapidly delivered combination, the first two notes being the most accented. Then there is the familiar clatter of still more rapid notes, delivered especially while two of the birds hover in midair, apparently about to engage in mortal combat. The voice has a very different quality from that of the eastern kingbird, lacking the very shrill, high-pitched character of the latter.”

Claude T. Barnes tells me that they make “while awing or while resting, harsh, discordant notes like ker-er-ip-ker-er-ip, the number of repetitions apparently depending upon the whim of the moment.”

W. Leon Dawson (1923) makes the amusing suggestion that “the love song is, curiously, a sneeze. For the early notes are ridiculously like the frantic protests of a prospective victim of cachination, followed by an emphatic and triumphant relief: -ï aiia kuehe~ iwick, a’ui kueAe~ iwick!” Enemies: These kingbirds and their eggs and young are doubtless preyed upon by the ordinary mammalian and avian predators that attack other small birds, but they are valiant and often successful in driving their enemies away from their homes. Dr. Roberts (1932) tells of the vigilance of a pair of these birds in defending their nestlings. The watchful parent “paid no apparent attention to other birds that might enter the tree, but when a red squirrel appeared a hundred feet away it made directly for it, attacking it vigorously and forcing it to leave the neighborhood.”

Lt. McCauley (1877) tells an interesting story of how a “treemouse” camped in the lining of a nest and devoured the contents of the eggs; he says:

“The rascally little mouse had made himself completely at home. Burrowing in the buffalo-wool, he had as warm and cosy a retreat as mouse ever dreamt of or wished for. When hungry, he quietly reached up, and his meal was ready and warm. It was purely a case of ‘free lunch’ in nature. He had eaten all the eggs but two, his retreat being full of fine pieces of egg-shells. Of those remaining, he had sucked out nearly all the contents of one, and upon the other he had also begun; a hole had been gnawed in the side of it, and the embryo, which had been well advanced, was lifeless.”

The Arkansas kingbird is a “a very rare victim” of the cowbirds (Friedxnann, 1929).

Field marks: Although the behavior of the Arkansas kingbird is similar to that of the eastern kingbird, and although their ranges somewhat overlap, there is no excuse for confusing the gray and yellow western with the black and white eastern species. The Arkansas and Cassin’s kingbirds are much alike in general appearance, but the bead of the former is lighter gray, the gray of the chest is paler, less extensive, and less strongly contrasted with the white chin of the latter, and the tail of the former is blacker than that of Cassin’s. But the most reliable field mark of the Arkansas kingbird, which will distinguish it with certainty from any other kingbird, is the conspicuously white outer web of the outer tail feather.

Winter: The Arkansas kingbird spends the winter in Central America, from western Mexico to Nicaragua. Dickey and van Rossem (1938) record it as a “fairly common migrant and winter visitant in the foothills and mountains [of El Salvador], arriving late in the fall and remaining until well along in the early summer. * * * The limits in altitude were 800 to 7,200 feet.”

Range: Western North America, north to southern Canada.

Breeding range: The normal breeding range of the Arkansas kingbird extends north to southern British Columbia (Clinton); and the southern part of the Prairie Provinces, Alberta (Morrin); Saskatchewan (Last Mountain Lake); and Manitoba (Oak Point and Portage la Prairie). East to southeastern Manitoba (Portage Ia Prairie); Minnesota (Warren, Duluth, and Minneapolis); Iowa (West Okoboji Lake and Ogden); Missouri (Columbia and Stotesbury) ; and eastern Oklahoma (Tulsa and Okmulgee). South to Oklahoma (Okmulgee and Norman) ; northern Texas (Wichita Falls and Vernon) ; northern Chihuahua (Casas Grandes and Whitewater); southern Arizona (Tombstone, Huachuca Mountains, and Baboquivari Mountains) ; and northern Baja California (La Grulla). West along the Pacific coast from northern Baja California (La Grulla and Todos Santos Island); to southwestern British Columbia (Chilliwack, Lillooet, and Clinton). There are scattered casual breeding records as far east as Michigan (Delton) and Ohio (Bono).

Winter range: During the winter season this species is concentrated chiefly in the western parts of Central America, north to Sonora (Alamos) ; and south to southern Guatemala (Gualan, Amatitlan, and Patulul); and El Salvador (Colima and Mount Cacaguatique). Records are lacking that would indicate any residence at this season in the eastern part of these countries, Spring migration: Early dates of spring arrival are: Texas: iRockport, April 18. Oklahoma: Oklahoma City, April 28. Kansas : Harper, April 23. Nebraska: Bed Cloud, April 26. South Dakota: Faulkton, May 3. North Dakota: Fargo, May 6. Manitoba: Aweme, May 17. New Mexico: Fort Webster, March 25. Colorado: Fort Morgan, April 20. Wyoming: Lingle, May 5. Montana ~Terry, May 8. Saskatchewan: Old Wives Creek, May 26. California: Buena Park, March 15. Oregon: Coos Bay, April 3. Washington: North DalIes, April 24. British Columbia: Okanagan Landing, April 29.

Fall migration: L ate dates of fall departures are: British Columbia: Okanagan Landing, September 9. Washington: Grand Dalles, September 1. Oregon: Coos Bay, September 10. California: Exeter, October 28. Alberta: Red Deer River, September 1. Montana : Fortine, September 5. Wyoming: Careyhurst, September 6. Colorado: Fort Morgan, September 20. New Mexico: Rio Alamosa, September 28. Saskatchewan: Eastend, August 26. North Dakota : Argusville, September 15. South Dakota: Faulkton, September 15. Nebraska: Bed Cloud, September 23. Kansas: Lawrence, October 4. Manitoba: Aweme, September 3. Minnesota: Fosston, September 6.

Casual records: The Arkansas kingbird has been taken on many occasions at points along the Atlantic seaboard, most of these being in the States of New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, and Maine. A specimen killed by a cat at Lower Wedgeport, Nova Scotia, on October 26, 1935, appears to be the most northerly record in this region. The species also has been recorded in Maryland, near Washington, D. C., September 30, 1874, and near Denton, September 28, 1931; Virginia, Wallops Island, September 19, 1919; North Carolina, Lake Mattamuskeet, October 1, 1935; South Carolina, Charleston, December 16, 1913, and Bull Island, November 19, 1937; while there are a number of records for Florida from Pensacola and St. Marks, south to Key West, observed or collected from September 22 to January 18. Specimens also have been taken in Illinois, Highland Park, June 6, 1924; Wisconsin, Albion, June 11, 1877, Kenosha, June 2, 1935, near Madison, August 1, 1927, and Roxbury, May 31, 1931. A specimen taken at Lake St. Martin, Manitoba, on June 8, 1932, with others seen in that locality in 1933 and 1936, appears to be the most northerly station.

Egg dates: Arizona: 18 records, May 14 to July 20; 10 records, May 30 to June 17, indicating the height of the season.

California: 106 records, April 17 to July 9; 53 records, May 10 to June 4.

Colorado:12 records, June 1 to 17.

South Dakota: 8 records, June 4 to 25.

Washington:10 records, May 25 to June 20.

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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