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Western Kingbird

Tyrannus verticalis

Length: 8.5 inches Wingspan: 15-16 inches Seasonality: Summer
ID Keys: Bright yellow underparts, grayish upperparts, black tail with white outer edges.

Western Kingbird - Tyrannus verticalisWith similar mannerisms to the Eastern Kingbird, the Western Kingbird can often be found perched on roadsides fences as it watches for insects.  Very aggressive, they are fierce defenders of their nests and young, often driving away birds as large as hawks. Western Kingbirds have adapted extremely well to the presence of humans, and can sometimes be found nesting well within urban areas.  They are more common in the western part of South Dakota, but they can be found statewide.


Prefers semi-open terrain with scattered patches of trees for nesting. Can sometimes be found within urban areas, and will nest on man-made structures when trees are absent.


Primarily insects.  Also sometimes takes fruits and berries.


Usually feeds by observing from a perch, and flying out to catch insects in mid-air, in typical flycatcher fashion.  They also are very capable of hovering, dropping down to catch prey when spotted.


 June and July. Western Kingbirds build nests in a variety of locations, most frequently in the branches of a tree or shrub, but also sometimes using man-made structures. The nest is a cup of grasses, roots, weed stems, and other vegetative material, lined with finer grasses, hair, feathers, and other finer/softer material. The female lays between 3 and 7 eggs, and she alone incubates them. The young hatch after about 15 to 18 days, with young fledging from the nest after another 2 weeks or so. Both the male and female continue to protect and feed the young for a few weeks after they fledge.


The most frequently heard vocalization is a short, relatively quiet kek call.  They also have a babbling, chattering song most frequently given in the morning, and a buzzier, chattering call most frequently heard when agitated or defending terrirtory.


Summers in the western 1/2 of the United States.  Primarily winters in central and South America, although some do over-winter in Florida and other strays are occasionally found along  the East Coast in the Fall.

Interactive eBird map:

Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Western Kingbird sightings

Similar Species:

There are several other flycatcher species with similar plumage (gray backs, yellow bellies), some of which can be found in South Dakota as well, and some that are found out of state. the following are the species most likely to be confused with a Western Kingbird:

Cassin's Kingbird - Tyrannus vociferans Great Crested Flycatcher - Myiarchus crinitus Couch's Kingbird - Tyrannus couchii Tropical Kingbird - Tyrannus melancholicus
Cassin's Kingbird Great-crested Flycatcher Couch's Kingbird Tropical Kingbird

Conservation Status:

Systematic surveys have shown Western Kingbird populations have undergone modest increases in recent decades, including some potential eastward range expansion. They are found acros a very broad geographic area and are common in parts of that range. The IUCN considers the Western Kingbird to be a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information:

Photo Information:

 May 27th, 2007 - Minnehaha County, South Dakota-- Terry Sohl

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Western Kingbird photos.

Audio File Credits:

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Western Kingbird - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Common summer resident throughout most of the state.  Somewhat less common in the southeastern part of the state.

Additional Western Kingbird Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
Western Kingbird 1 - Tyrannus verticalis
Western Kingbird 2 - Tyrannus verticalisWestern Kingbird 3 - Tyrannus verticalisWestern Kingbird 4 - Tyrannus verticalisWestern Kingbird 5 - Tyrannus verticalisWestern Kingbird 6 - Tyrannus verticalisWestern Kingbird 7 - Tyrannus verticalisWestern Kingbird 8 - Tyrannus verticalisWestern Kingbird 9 - Tyrannus verticalisWestern Kingbird 10 - Tyrannus verticalisWestern Kingbird 11 - Tyrannus verticalisWestern Kingbird 12 - Tyrannus verticalis