Tropical Kingbird

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For me, a sure sign that southern Arizona’s annual heat festival has arrived is the appearance of kingbirds.  These flycatchers seem to time their seasonal arrivals in our area with the advent of daytime temperatures that are consistently above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (above 32 degrees Celsius).

There are three species of kingbird that I encounter during the hot months: Western, Tropical, and Cassin’s.  These kingbirds closely resemble each other, although there are definite differences in appearance.  Of the three, Western Kingbirds are the most commonly seen.  They tend to show up in open country, particularly in farming areas and grasslands.  Cassin’s Kingbirds favor dry, brushy areas.  I see them from time to time in the grasslands near Sonoita.  Tropical Kingbirds are the most uncommon of the kingbirds to appear locally.  They are very partial to stands of trees adjacent to fields.

As their name implies, Tropical Kingbirds are a species that has its principal range in Mexico and points south.  The northernmost extent of the Tropical Kingbird’s range lies in southern Arizona and the southern tip of Texas.  Although Tropical Kingbirds are generally uncommon sights in southern Arizona,  I know of one area in which they are fairly easy to find.  That’s in the Santa Cruz Flats, northwest of Tucson, where Tropical Kingbirds frequently perch on the limbs of the pecan trees that line the edges of some of the farm roads.  There, they thrive and nest in the summer months.

Tropical Kingbirds are extraordinary fliers.  These kingbirds search for flying insects by using their keen vision to spot them from their perches.  When a Tropical Kingbird sees a potential meal, it pursues it in the air, swooping down on it and sometimes exhibiting impressive aerobatic maneuvers, including loops and rolls in mid-air.

The easiest way to distinguish a Tropical Kingbird from a Western or a Cassin’s Kingbird is by looking at its tail.  Tropicals have a pronounced fork in their tails, a feature that Westerns and Cassin’s lack.  Two other distinguishing features:  Tropical Kingbirds have all yellow breasts and abdomens whereas Cassin’s and Western Kingbirds have gray breasts and yellow abdomens.  Also, Tropical Kingbirds have larger and thicker beaks than have Cassin’s and Western Kingbirds.

In days to come I’ll be posting additional kingbird images.  I haven’t photographed a Cassin’s Kingbird this year but I hope to do so in the near future.  Perhaps, in a future post, I’ll feature images of all three species for comparison purposes.

Images made with a Canon 5Div, 400mm f4 DO II lens+1.4x telextender, M setting (auto ISO), ISO 800, f5.6 @ 1/2000.


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