Western Kingbird

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Western Kingbird
Photo by: 
Mary Nemecek

I remember how excited birders would get when they spotted a Western Kingbird ( Tyrannus verticalis) when I first arrived in Kansas City in 1992. In those days, West- erns made the rare bird “hotline”. My, how times have changed.

As their name suggests, the members of Tyrrant flycatcher family are primarily western in their historical distribution, but over the past 20 years or so have been expanding eastward.

Our customers have noticed this range expansion. We are getting asked frequently about these gray birds with bright yellow bellies perched on powerlines with a very upright posture. Those who study them at length notice that their outer tail feathers are white on an otherwise black tail.

Like other members of their family, Western Kingbirds are known for their acrobatic forays as they hawk insects from the air. They are very helpful birds.

John Burwell pointed out to me a few years ago that he thought they really like to nest behind power transformers. I had never noticed that but sure enough, when I would find a bird in an urban setting, there usually is a power pole with a transformer and a nest close by.

While I do find them in many places, these birds have really done well in the city setting. I see them in the warehouse district in North Kansas City, in shopping centers like Metro North Mall and around tennis courts.

I don’t think it is an accident that all of these areas have lots of lights that attract lots of flying insects all through the night. Probably the greatest example of this behaviour is seen at Kauffman Stadium. My friend, Larry Rizzo, wrote an article for the Conservationist magazine a couple of years ago about the Western Kingbirds that reside out there and are actively hunting late into the evening.

By Mark McKellar

SUMMER 2013