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The Eastern and Western Kingbirds, Similarities and Differences

Updated on July 4, 2016
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The Similarities

Oklahoma is the host to two strikingly beautiful kingbirds, the eastern and the western variety. The flycatchers, wood pewees, phoebes and kingbirds are part of the same family, the Tyrannidae, which loosely translates into “tyrant”. Both are neotropical migrants, which means they migrate to the northern rainforests of Mexico and Caribbean islands, extending to the non-tropical regions of South America in the fall. Both like to sit upon their perches to scan the skies for prey, and hawk insects in the air, returning to their previous perch to eat them. Both species are monogamous and solitary nesters. The diet consists of fruits and berries, as well as assorted insects. Also both birds have elaborate, yet erratic and hectic courtship rituals in flight. They are both roughly the same size and weight, but their differences are in the coloring, which makes them very easy to identify. Incubation is roughly 18 days, the young are in the nest for about the same period of time, and are fed by both parents.

Eastern Kingbird
Eastern Kingbird | Source

The Eastern Kingbird

The Eastern Kingbird covers more than the eastern reaches of the country. It actually covers most of the country, as well as the better part of Canada, save for the northernmost reaches.

This gregarious beauty can be solitary, or appear in pairs. It often sits on low to mid-level perches, and rather high on weed stalks, shrubs, trees, utility wires and other man-made perches.

These birds have shrill bickering calls, and if there is a nest, either one or both parents are relatively close to it at all times. They spend time haranguing crows and hawks, if they are in the vicinity, then learn that it is in their best interests to move on, for a kingbird is relentless.


Breeding

There is one brood per year, and the female is the chief nest builder, but the male will help her. Their nests are generally close to water. This bird is a common host for the Cowbird, but they manage to damage or eject the eggs fairly soon.

Panax Morototoni
Panax Morototoni | Source

The Eastern Kingbird as a Neotropical Resident

These often brave and sometimes foolhardy birds are well known for their attacks on hawks and crows that have the unmitigated nerve to fly near their nesting territory. Despite their tenacity, their populations have declining by about one-third since the 1960s.

Kingbirds are not flycatchers during their time in the tropics in the fall and winter, as they switch to fruit since so many trees are loaded with it. In the winter, they form flocks of dozens of birds, beginning the winter in South America during the dry season and their favored fruit, Panax morototoni, is already ripe. As the season progresses the dry season moves north, so they relocate to Costa Rica and Panama, following the ripening fruit wave. Their wintering ecology revolves around the timing of the fruiting of this particular tree.

Eastern Kingbird Vocalizing
Eastern Kingbird Vocalizing | Source
Western Kingbird with Nastlings
Western Kingbird with Nastlings | Source
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Western Kingbird

The Western Kingbird is the most common kingbird in the west, and has adapted well to human development. It will use utility lines and poles as common perches, even nest upon them. They think nothing of using utility wires and fences as active perching spots. This bird is more gregarious than the Eastern Kingbird, with sometimes two or more pairs nesting in the same tree. It is also rather aggressive, and will quite frequently actively chase crows, hawks and other large birds from its territorial nesting area. This is the only kingbird of record that has a black tail with white edges on either side.

Western Kingbird
Western Kingbird | Source

Breeding

There are one or two broods per year, and I noticed an observer near the nest while the parents were feeding their young. They are common in semiarid open country, and nests are built by both male and female.

They also tend to favor farms, fences roadsides, and any sort of telephone or electric wire, as well as guide wires.

Where is Boomer Lake in Stillwater, OK?

Western Kingbird
Western Kingbird | Source
Western Kingbird Fledgling
Western Kingbird Fledgling | Source
Eastern Kingbird Pair
Eastern Kingbird Pair | Source
Eastern Kingbird Portrait
Eastern Kingbird Portrait | Source

© 2012 Deb Hirt

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    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 23 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Siddharth! It is always good to be in contact with my northern friends. Thanks for checking things out and stop by the blog for even more pictures, if you have time.

    • profile image

      Siddharth Kapoor 23 months ago

      Hi Deb. I just found you here. Wonderful photography.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, Alun. There's plenty more where that came from!

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 2 years ago from Essex, UK

      A nice collection of photos and accompanying descriptions of these birds you've put together here Deb. Although not living in America, I have seen the Western Kingbird on a visit there long ago, and pages like yours are really useful guides to identifying species, and highlighting the similarities and the differences between related species.

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, D.A.L.! Both of these great birds have graced my backyard once again at the lake, but we now have many more Eastern Kingbirds. I enjoy their presence immensely, and their Scissor-tailed Flycatcher relative will sometimes get into little territorial matches. It is interesting to watch the two vie against one another.

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 4 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi Deb, thank you once again for adding to my knowledge of the birds from your part of the world. As always the article was informative and enhanced by great photography. Voted up. Booked marked for reference.

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, grandmapearl. I also found their nest, which is why they have been hanging around this particular tree.

    • grandmapearl profile image

      Connie Smith 5 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      It is great to see the differences in these two wonderful birds. We have pee wees around here, too. Love them all. We have Eastern Kingbirds that nest in a certain part of our woods every year. When I take walks in the woods I love to hear these cool birds! Your Western Kingbirds are really beautiful with their yellow underparts. Thanks for this article! Voted Up, Interesting and Beautiful, also Shared!

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, unknown spy. It's always a pleasure to see you here.

    • unknown spy profile image

      IAmForbidden 5 years ago from Neverland - where children never grow up.

      Great photos DEb. I always enjoy watching and reading your article.

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I appreciate that, thelyricwriter. Maybe I can come up with something else, too.

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Why, thanks, Johan! There will be more to come.

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Glad you like them, sallieann. I've been having fun at the lake since the middle of March.

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      summerberrie, flycatchers and kingbirds are in the same family, hence the resemblance.

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thank you, DeborahNeyens. Birds are a great hobby for me.

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, xstatic. I thought that it would be fun to discuss two birds for a change.

    • thelyricwriter profile image

      Richard Ricky Hale 5 years ago from West Virginia

      Voted up and all across but funny. I never have heard of this bird before. It is a beautiful bird though, love the yellow underbelly. Truly a useful article on the kingbird, great pictures, and very informative. I comend you on your passion for birds. It has been a pleasure learning about them from your articles. Best wishes.

    • Johan Smulders profile image

      Johan Smulders 5 years ago from East London, South Africa

      More great photos and a good article.Thanks!

    • sallieannluvslife profile image

      sallieannluvslife 5 years ago from Eastern Shore

      Oh My Goodness! What beautiful photos you take!! Awesome Hub!

    • profile image

      summerberrie 5 years ago

      Hi aviannovice. Thanks for the information. Your Western Kingbird looks similar to our Great Crested Flycatcher. We had a flycatcher nesting in an old tree cavity in our backyard- really fun to watch. Love seeing your birds!

    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 5 years ago from Iowa

      I love to watch the birds in my garden. Thanks for the overview of the different types of kingbirds. Your photos are awesome!

    • xstatic profile image

      Jim Higgins 5 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

      Really great information and wonderful photographs!

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