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Western Kingbird: Overview & Identification

July 26, 2022

The Western Kingbird is an eye-catching bird with lemon-yellow and ashy gray plumage. They’re a familiar sight during summertime, and you’ll likely see Western Kingbirds in open habitats all across western North America.

These large flycatchers set out to catch flying insects from their conspicuous perches on utility lines or in trees, flashing their black tails with white edges. Western Kingbirds are quite aggressive, and they’ll frequently chase and scold intruders away from their territory with their flared crimson feathers and snapping bills that are typically hidden under their crowns.

Related: Learn How to ID Your Favorite Birds

How to ID An Western Kingbird

There are four keys to identifying Western Kingbirds:

1. Size and Shape

Western Kingbirds are quite large for flycatchers. They have big heads, broad shoulders, long wings, heavy bills, and a medium square-tipped tail.

2. Color Pattern

Western Kingbirds have a yellow belly, whitish throat and chest, and gray heads. Their tail is mostly black, but their outer tail feathers are white, which are particularly conspicuous during flight.

3. Behavior

You’ll often see Western Kingbirds perched upright on utility lines and fences as they wait to hawk insects out of the air or fly off to pick up prey from the ground. These birds will ferociously defend their territories with highly vocal, wing-fluttering attacks. This vocalization includes a long series of bubbling, squeaky calls and a single accented kip note.

4. Habitat

Western Kingbirds typically live in open habitats, perching on trees, fences, and utility lines. They much prefer lowlands and valleys, like deserts, grasslands, agricultural fields, sagebrush, and open woodlands. You’ll typically find Western Kingbirds below 7,000 feet of elevation.

Related: Northern Flicker: ID and Overview

Where to Find Western Kingbirds

During the spring and summer, the large, aggressive, flycatching Western Kingbirds with their lemon-and-gray plumage are everywhere, choosing open habitats all across western North America. With their squeaky calls and sharp kip notes, you won’t have trouble spotting them.

In between their flycatching flights, you’ll find Western Kingbirds perched on fence posts, power lines, shrubs, and trees, making them fairly easy to spot along many roadsides.

For those that live in rural areas with open habitats, like large grassy fields, you might notice Western Kingbirds perching on fences or shade trees in your yard. Although they primarily eat insects, they sometimes fruits and shrubs, including elderberry, Texas mulberry, hawthorn, and woodbine.

Fun Facts About Western Kingbirds

Did you know these fun facts about Western Kingbirds?

Want to catch some Western Kingbirds plucking insects out of the air? Enter BirdBot — the most intelligent bird camera available. (Plus, you’ll be helping fund the future of ornithology!)

Related: American Robin: ID and Overview