[CT Birds] Mystery Kingbird

Clay Taylor ctaylor at att.net
Fri Jan 11 23:38:40 EST 2008

All -

I'm writing this from my hotel room in GA, so all I have for reference are
my photos on the laptop, my Nat Geo guide, and whatever I can find online.

OK, with the Warbler Fiasco in mind, can we see ALL the images, not just the
sitting shot and cropped wing shot?   How were the slides scanned / duped,
and are the tones and color balance similar to the original slides?

As for the sighting, WHY was it "unusual"?    What caused you to question

I have a real problem with Cassin's Kingbird - the leaves are showing some
color against the sky, so the image is not totally blown out by the sky
color, but I don't see a hint of yellow on the undersides.   This bird is
showing a "capped" look, and the dark chest is not a function of shadowing,
as the belly and UTCs are definitely lighter, yet are more shielded from the

I'm actually looking at Cassin's K photos that I shot in CA a month ago, and
on one pose where the bird's head is in shadow, the white of the throat
actually extends up toward the eye and base of the bill, while the cheeks
are as dark as the side of the head.   In the Hammo bird, the throat is not
white enough against the breast / head color, it doesn't extend up toward
the bill, and the cheeks and nape appear to be lighter than the cap, while
Cassin's has a head, nape, and cheeks that are all close in tone.

OK, on to Western K.   Again, where's the yellow?    Western also should
show a post-ocular line that is darker than the crown, nape, etc., and the
whitish of the throat goes past the eye.  This bird does not.

The Nat Geo guide shows that there can be a diffuse breast band on Eastern
Kingbird, and a quick Google Images search of EAKI finds plenty of examples
of this - some breast bands appearing pretty smudgy.   That plus the dark
cap and lighter nape makes the bird appear pretty good for Eastern, with the
apparent lack of the signature white terminal band on the tail to explain.
Mark (or any of the banders out there), when do Kingbirds molt their flight
feathers?    I photographed a Gray Kingbird in TX in November, and it was
just starting to molt both its primaries and tail feathers.  With the August
19 date, this might be a bird that has worn most of the weaker white feather
barbs off the end of its tail (kind of like a Cooper's Hawk in spring vs.
fall) but has yet to molt its flight feathers for the fall (wish I could see
the entire wing shot, but all the feathers appear to be the same age class).

The other mostly black & white kingbirds (Loggerhead and Thick-billed) do
not seem to have the diffuse breast band, and the bills are far too long /
fat for the Hammo bird.

A Fork-tailed Flycatcher with short tail feathers has a phoebe-sized body,
so I won't even go there.

I vote Eastern Kingbird.

Clay Taylor
Moodus, CT
ctaylor at att.net

----- Original Message ----- 
From: <james.bair at snet.net>
To: "CT Birding Listserv" <ctbirds at lists.ctbirding.org>
Sent: Friday, January 11, 2008 8:11 PM
Subject: Re: [CT Birds] Mystery Kingbird

> Dear Brian:
> You wrote:
> I was going through some old slides when I happened upon one that created
quite a stir back in 1998.
> Jay Kaplan and myself were leading a bird walk at Hammonasett SP on August
19, 1998.  Our group was enjoying a couple of Philadelphia Vireos in this
large isolated tree.  When all of a sudden this unusual looking kingbird
flew in.  I managed to get a couple shots before it was never seen again.
Now, before I tell you the conclusion of the story I would like your
thoughts on this bird.  I was never truly satisfied with the identification.
> If you are familiar with this photo please don't give it away ~ just yet.
> Click on the link below to see the pic.
> http://members.cox.net/snaketat/kingbird%20web.jpg
> Have Fun!
> This was fun! It has enough features to make one think it was a Cassin's
Kingbird--darker breast, white on tip of tail and fine white lines on wings.
However, the photo is fuzzy enough and apparently backlit by the sun, that
my inclination is to call it a Western. We get them in CT; the first Western
I ever saw was a fall bird with no white on the outer tail. The darker
breast could be attributed simply to the shadow since the sun is clearly
behind it. The realtively dark underwing coverts are clearly attributed to
the position of the sun as all the yellow-bellied kingbirds have yellow
> That position of the sun could also account for the whitish appearance of
the tail feathers in the photo as a refraction through the tips or edges of
the feathers.
> Photos don't always have the complete answer. Last summer there was a
photo in this forum we discussed as a possible Mourning Warbler or
Yellowthroat. The photo by itself could have been of either one, but the
jizz of each of those two birds is so different, that the field observation
would be critical. In the case of the warblers, I would ask, "Did it look
and act like a green wren [Yellowthroat] or a green thrush [Mourning
Warbler}?" Similarly, my question would be to you and Jay: did you see the
white band on the end of the tail or was that only visible in the photo? If
the white band at the end of the tail was clearly part of the tail and not
just a trick of the lighting, then perhaps it was a Cassin's. I might still
be leaning to Western...or did anyone consider a Western x Eastern hybrid?
The time of year would certainly be appropriate for any of the western
kingbirds to be a vagrant here.
> In the meantime, I will wait till the next issue comes out with the puzzle
> Jim Bair
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