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The Eastern and Western Kingbirds, Similarities and Differences
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
© 2012 Deb Hirt