[CT Birds] The Bridgeport yellow-bellied kingbird

Nick Bonomo nbonomo at gmail.com
Mon Oct 27 02:29:25 EDT 2014

The difficulty of Western versus Cassin's Kingbird identification, in
particular, is under-appreciated in the East, particularly where birders
are not used to seeing yellow-bellied kingbirds of any species with

I understand that the Bridgeport kingbird has only been seen at great
distances, which makes observation and photography really difficult. The
only photo I have seen thus far appears equivocal to me - nothing
convincingly wrong for Western, but Cassin's probably not ruled out. The
photo is understandably poor given the distance involved and is difficult
to trust when assessing detail.

The problem with this ID lies in the reliance of tail pattern that is
emphasized in the major field guides. What many references do not explain
is that **Cassin's Kingbirds can have white or whitish edging to their
outer tail feathers that can contrast surprisingly well with the very dark
tail.** So, reliance on this field mark alone can lead one to misidentify a
Cassin's as a Western Kingbird.

This has happened before. In autumn of 2011 a bird at Cherry Hill Reservoir
in Massachusetts was initially identified as a Western Kingbird based on
this feature. Further analysis revealed the bird to be a Cassin's. For some
background reading and links to photos, click this link and scroll down to
the Nov 25th posts:

A few things worry me about the photo I viewed of the kingbird in question.
The tail may have a pale tip, white outer tail feathers are not really
obvious if even visible at all, the back is rather dark olive showing
little contrast with wings, the wing coverts may be pale-fringed, the belly
is really intensely bright yellow. I cannot get a good read on the
all-important head/throat pattern from the photo. Please keep in mind that
the photo, while useful, is very poor in that it was taken from a great
distance. Lighting and shadows may be wreaking havoc here. But, in my
opinion, this bird should be pursued until diagnostic views or photos are
obtained. Pay particular attention to the distribution of white and gray on
the head/face/throat/chest.

This is all based on viewing one poor photo (which is always dangerous)
combined with personal knowledge of this sometimes tricky identification.
Good views and photos of the bird would answer our questions and could very
well reveal a classic Western Kingbird after all! Some of those experienced
folks who have seen the bird in the field might already know that! (Please
chime in if you do...and thank you to those who already have!!). But I
would rather call further attention to this bird until diagnostic images
are obtained and made public. As of now, a significant public discussion
regarding details of this bird's plumage from head to tail has not
occurred. As far as I can tell, only the tail has been addressed. Any and
all information would be appreciated on this distant and difficult-to-see

Nick Bonomo

Nick Bonomo
Wallingford, CT

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