Wild Guide

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From Missouri Conservationist: June 2020

Eastern Kingbird | Tyrannus tyrannus


Common summer resident


8½ inches



Eastern kingbirds are found in grassland or agricultural areas with scattered trees, woodlands, savannas, forest edges, and city parks. They build their large, thick walled, sturdy cup nests with twigs, grass, and even human trash, often near water. Since the 1960s, populations have decreased by 40 percent due to habitat loss and insecticides.

Did you know?

A king must have a crown, and the eastern kingbird is no exception. This king wears a crown of yellow, orange, or red feathers, but conceals it until encountering a predator. The scientific name Tyrannus, meaning “tyrant, despot, or king,” refers to kingbirds’ aggression toward each other and other species.


The eastern kingbird is an aerial hunter, snatching large flying insects, like wasps, beetles, and grasshoppers, on the wing. Using bristly feathers near its bill, the kingbird funnels the unsuspecting prey into its mouth. The kingbird returns to its perch where it bangs the insect on a branch and swallows it. A small amount of berries and other fruit are eaten in summer, but kingbirds switch to a diet of mostly fruit while wintering in South America.

Ecosystem Connections

As a member of the flycatcher family, kingbirds serve as a natural check on insect populations, helping control the numbers of a variety of insects.

Life Cycle

Eastern kingbirds have one brood each year. A typical clutch consists of two to five eggs, incubated in 14–17 days. Hatchlings fledge in 16–17 days. Eastern kingbirds arrive in Missouri the second half of April, and migrate to South America by mid-August to early September.

This Issue's Staff

Magazine Manager - Stephanie Thurber

Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld

Associate Editor - Larry Archer

Staff Writer - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek

Art Director - Cliff White

Designer - Shawn Carey
Designer - Les Fortenberry
Designer - Marci Porter

Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner

Circulation - Laura Scheuler