[CT Birds] Mystery Kingbird Revealed (Brian Kleinman)

James P. Smith keenbirder at yahoo.com
Sat Jan 12 18:41:51 EST 2008

 Greetings CT birders,

I haven't followed all of this discussion but if I understand correctly this an identification challenge concerning a kingbird that wasn't seen well in the field, but identified at a later date from one or two images on slides?

I'm quite intrigued by the conclusions drawn about this bird and have a couple of questions. 

1) Where are the Western Kingbird characteristics shown in the images?

2) I'm not aware that hybridization in kingbirds is a particularly common event. So what are the odds of photographing a kingbird very briefly in mid-August in Connecticut and finding out later that is actually from a hybrid pairing? This seems like an  exceptional circumstance to me and perhaps requiring more exceptional evidence. I was wondering if there was any additional material that would point to this bird being from a hybrid pair?

I'm actually in agreement with Clay Taylor here. I think it's an Eastern Kingbird. My personal feeling is that it's in fresh juvenile plumage, identifiable by the prominent white fringes to the primaries and wing coverts and a subtle yellow wash on the lower belly. As Clay indicated pretty heavily, there is probably some photographic distortion, thus exaggerating the appearance of the yellow and the extent of the gray wash on the breast. The throat appears to be in shadow rather than being genuinely grayish.

The location and time of year would be totally appropriate for a juvenile Eastern Kingbird.

A couple of years ago I went to look for a Western Kingbird found locally by Harvey Allen in South Amherst. I was lucky and met with success, but the  same spot was also loaded with Eastern Kingbirds. I remember being impressed by the appearance of the juveniles, many of which showed a notable yellowish suffusion on the lower belly when I was fully expecting the Western to be the only yellow bellied kingbird there.

One could argue that a hybrid is difficult to rule out but I think it's even more difficult to reach the conclusion, from these images alone, that one of this bird's parents was a Western.

Definitely an interesting and fun exercise. Is there any chance we can be pointed to the Western Kingbird characteristics?

Best Wishes,


----- Original Message ----
From: "snaketat at cox.net" <snaketat at cox.net>
To: ctbirds at lists.ctbirding.org
Sent: Saturday, January 12, 2008 7:18:40 AM
Subject: [CT Birds] Mystery Kingbird Revealed (Brian Kleinman)

 Cograt's to Jim and Clay for attempting to ID this kingbird.  Jim you  were right in calling it a hybrid and Clay you were 1/2 right.  Here is  the actual report from the CT Rare Records Committee.

CASSIN'S KINGBIRD (Tyrannus vociferans). A single bird thought to be of  this species was seen and photographed at Hammonasset Beach State Park  on 19 Aug 1998 (99-12). This report initiated one of the most  interesting ornithological investigations in ARCC history. The bird was fairly  well studied. The photographs were suggestive at best but actually  provided some key evidence for this investigation. The write-ups and photos  describe a kingbird shaped bird with fairly yellow under parts; a  distinct and fairly broad white terminal band to the tail, a dark breast  set off from the yellowish under parts by a narrow white area, a "medium"  sized bill for a kingbird, and moderately dark upper parts. Lacking,  or unable to be determined were the white malar area typical of Cassin's  Kingbird, a clear determination of the number of tail feathers  evident, the certain age of the individual, or the true extent of the  yellowish coloration to the under parts.

Many committee members felt that this bird showed real possibilities to  be vociferans but a few were initially troubled by the tail pattern.  The white tip seemed to be a bit extreme for Cassin's Kingbird which has  white or pale fringing to the tip of the tail and not really a defined  white tip as this bird showed. The tails suggested that of an Eastern  Kingbird (T. tyrannus), but the yellowish coloration to the under parts  seemed to be beyond what reviewers have experienced with the species.  Copies of the slides were sent digitally to experts from around the  country and what ensued was extremely interesting. Most of these people  felt that the bird was not Cassin's Kingbird for the same reasons as  stated above. A few felt that the images did not conclusively identify it  as Cassin's, nor did they conclusively eliminate Cassin's. The most  important bits of information came when the ARCC asked reviewers if they  had any experience with hybrid
 Eastern X Western Kingbird (T.  verticalis). Surprisingly, a few people had some experience with this pairing and  more importantly, numerous extremely experienced ornithologists felt  that these photos suggest what a hybrid of this pairing could, in fact,  resemble (V. Remsen, K. Garrett, T. Leukering, pers. comm.)! While  identification to this hybrid combination is far from provable, the  committee agreed that the bird was not Cassin's Kingbird and that  identification of this bird as an Eastern X Western Kingbird hybrid could not be  ruled out.

The breeding range of Western Kingbird is spreading eastward at an  impressive rate and recent nestings in Tennessee and in the upper Midwest,  east of the Mississippi, seem to indicate that hybrid pairings like the  one suggested above may become more frequent (Winging It, Aug 99).  Observers are asked to carefully note all details of yellow-bellied  kingbird observations.

This committee would like to extend special thanks to Louis Bevier,  Kimball Garrett, Greg Lasley, Tony Leukering, Van Remsen, and Don Roberson  for their careful analysis and comment on this confusing issue.

Thanks for playing!


This list is provided by the Connecticut Ornithological Association  (COA) for the discussion of birds and birding in Connecticut.  
For subscription information visit  http://lists.ctbirding.org/mailman/listinfo/ctbirds_lists.ctbirding.org

Looking for last minute shopping deals?  
Find them fast with Yahoo! Search.  http://tools.search.yahoo.com/newsearch/category.php?category=shopping

More information about the CTBirds mailing list