Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Tropical Kingbird - Tyrannus melancholicus
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General Comments This abundant Neotropical species ranges north to extreme southern Texas and southern Arizona. However, there are some migratory movements of the Tropical Kingbird, and thus strays have appeared as far east as the Atlantic Coast, and on many occasions to the Pacific Coast. Because this species looks very similar to the Couch's Kingbird, which is limited mainly to eastern Mexico and southern Texas, identification of the species pair away from the breeding grounds must typically rely on the distinctive vocalizations. In fact, the astounding first record for North Carolina, in winter 1985-86, which had photographic documentation, was turned down for publication in a national journal because no voice recordings were made, despite the distinctive high-pitched twittering call being often heard. In the state, the six records are from coastal and Tidewater areas; two are from farmland habitat, with fields, telephone lines, and animal feedlots in the vicinity.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Casual stray. There are six records, four in late fall or early winter: one near Fairfield (Hyde), 29 Dec 1985 - 3 Jan 1986* [Chat 54:57 link]; one at Pea Island, 29 Oct - 19 Nov 2001* [Chat 66:34 link], [Chat 67:2-3 link]; one near Lake Phelps (Washington), 19 Nov - 26 Dec 2005* [Chat 70:10 link], [Chat 70:31 link]; and one at Mackay Island NWR (Currituck), 13 Oct - 6 Nov 2023 [Chat 88:15 link]. Each of these records is documented with photos, though only the last has voice recordings. The fifth record, also documented with photos, was one at North River Preserve (Carteret) on 3 Jun 2017* [Chat 81:107-108 link], [Chat 82:56 link]. A sixth record was one photographed on the southern Core Banks (Carteret) on 4 May 2020 [Chat 84:99 link]; this report has not yet been reviewed by the NC BRC. There are at least two other reports of the species pair, almost certainly a Tropical based on likelihood -- Couch's almost never strays far from its breeding range.
Piedmont No records.
Mountains No records.
Finding Tips When birding along and near the coast, be aware of any kingbird with yellow underparts. A few decades ago, these were all Westerns, or likely Westerns, but nowadays check very carefully, as this abundant Neotropical species is certainly an identification candidate.
Attribution LeGrand[2024-02-10], LeGrand[2023-03-24], LeGrand[2020-08-03]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.