Bird Lore: Eastern Kingbird

Photos by LeRoy Van Hee
Photos by LeRoy Van Hee


Despite its name, the Eastern Kingbird is a neotropic migrant that breeds across North America, including Washington. This flycatcher arrives from South America in May and establishes its breeding territory throughout its range, including Eastern Washington. It breeds in small numbers in Western Washington, usually arriving here in June.

For many years the Snohomish River, from Snohomish to Everett, has hosted up to six pairs of birds each summer. In more than 20 years of record keeping for Edmonds, the Eastern Kingbird had not been seen here until two appeared near the Edmonds marsh last week. They were present for two days and then moved on, perhaps to the Snohomish River valley.

The Eastern Kingbird is noted for its black cap and white throat and the distinctive white band on the tip of the black tail that is noticeable even in flight. It is an overall compact bird with a large head and wide chest. It has rapid, fluttery wingbeat that can make it look as if it is quivering in the air. It is capable of aerial acrobatics that include rapid acceleration, swoops, banking descents, and climbs at what appear to be reckless speeds.

Flycatchers feed on insects. They watch from perches in trees and bushes, sally forth to catch insects in the air, bank, and then return to their original or other perches. The insect diet of the Eastern Kingbird consists of beetles, wasps, bees, winged ants, grasshoppers, flies, and leafhoppers among other insects. In the fall this flycatcher feeds on fruits and berries. When it returns to South America it feeds primarily on tropical berries.

The Eastern Kingbird usually builds its nest in a deciduous tree or large shrub, locating it anywhere from seven to thirty feet above ground. Sometimes a nest can be found on a power-line tower, on top of a fence post, or on a dead snag standing in water. The female builds the nest, which is a bulky cup of weeds stalks, twigs, and grass. It is lined with fine grass and animal hair. The female incubates three to four eggs. The young hatch in 16-18 days and then both parents bring food for the nestlings.

You can listen to a vocalizing Eastern Kingbird at this web page:

– By Carol Riddell

Carol Riddell, author of our new “Bird Lore” feature, manages the bird education displays, on behalf of Pilchuck Audubon Society and Edmonds Parks & Recreation, at the Olympic Beach Visitor Station.

One Reply to “Bird Lore: Eastern Kingbird”

  1. Great photos and column! Special thanks to Carol Riddell and Le Roy Van Hee for providing an outstanding and timely account of the resident and migrant birds found in Edmonds.

    FYI: Carol also publishes a monthly “Edmonds Roundup” summarizing confirmed sightings by top-notch local birders. They are an impressive group!


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