[CT Birds] Mystery Kingbird Revealed (Brian Kleinman)

Clay Taylor ctaylor at att.net
Sat Jan 12 23:49:30 EST 2008

Hi all -

To clarify my earlier post - I did not see any hint of yellow on my laptop
monitor, but the accuracy of the slide scan could also contribute to that.
Hence my comments.   Since it sounds like the people that saw the bird are
all in agreement that it showed noticeable yellow underneath, I accept that
as evidence that it was indeed an "unusual" kingbird, and definitely not a
normal Eastern.    I have never seen a "yellowish" Eastern, nor have I seen
a photo of one.

IF an hypothetical WEKI / EAKI hybrid were to show up in CT, mid to late
August is as good a time as any fall date - I saw my only CT Yellow-headed
BB at Hammo in August, and banded a Loggerhead Shrike at Hammo in August.

I don't have any decent WEKI photos with me, so I was trying to see if there
was any difference in primary extension between EAKI and WEKI, Cassin's,
Couch's, etc.   The Mystery Bird clearly has the primary tips just reaching
the end of the undertail coverts, and my Cassin's Kingbird photos from CA
seem to show that the primaries extend just a little past the UTC, but it is
REALLY close.

A second note to the guys with up-to-date Banding Manuals - are there
differences in primary feather formulae between EAKI / WEKI / etc?    The
full image of the open wing shot should be sufficient to show any
differences, and also whether the bird is an adult or immature (usually
immies have differently-shaped primaries than do adults of the same

Clay Taylor
Moodus, CT
ctaylor at att.net

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "James P. Smith" <keenbirder at yahoo.com>
To: <snaketat at cox.net>; <ctbirds at lists.ctbirding.org>
Sent: Saturday, January 12, 2008 6:41 PM
Subject: Re: [CT Birds] Mystery Kingbird Revealed (Brian Kleinman)

> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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,
> James.
> ----- 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
> 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
> 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!
> Brian
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