Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Western Kingbird - Tyrannus verticalis
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General Comments The Western Kingbird history in North Carolina is a sad one. Back in the 1960's and early 1970's, one could occasionally see a handful of birds on a single day in fall along the Outer Banks. This was especially true a day after a cold front. However, since 1972, numbers of this species reaching the Atlantic coast have clearly declined, even though the breeding range -- the western half of the United States -- has remained the same and even occasionally has spread into some Midwestern states. Nowadays, this has been a difficult species to find in the state -- even though a few are seen annually, and some people who have conducted Big Years have missed the species. Thankfully, there was an increase in sightings in late fall 2013 and early winter 2014 near the coast. It is typically found along or near the coast, in open sites on exposed perches, such as on telephone wires near yards, waste lots, farmlands, and other early succession sites. Oddly, the species is found along the Atlantic coast only as a fall migrant; spring birds move up the middle of the continent, and there are only a few such records for the state.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Fall transient, regularly lingering into early winter; declining, at least in fall. Along the coast, formerly uncommon, but now rare over nearly all of the coast, including parts of the Tidewater region. Farther inland, casual in fall. Primarily late Aug to late Nov, with a peak in late Oct. Many winter records, into early Feb, but very few birds survive the entire winter. Casual in spring migration: one record in late Mar, one in May, and four in June. One at Alligator River NWR (Dare) on 17 Jul 2022 was a presumed very early fall migrant. Peak counts: 10, Ocracoke Island, 23 Oct 1972; 8 on several occasions.
Piedmont Fall stray/transient. Casual to very rare, with only 14 records. Eight of the records fall between 6 Sep and 9 Nov; two are in Aug. The only winter records are one photographed along Tuttle Road in far-inland (Stokes) from 27-31 Dec 2019; one seen and photographed in northern Orange from 17-19 Dec 2022; and another (or perhaps the same as the last record?) at Hank Anderson Park (Orange) on 8 Jan 2023. Completely out of season was one photographed in Stokes on 18 Jun 2023. Peak counts: one.
Mountains Casual. Four records: three in fall (one in Aug and two in Sep). The report of two birds in Ashe on 24 Mar 1965 is so early and out of line with any other state reports that it must be considered open to question. The one at Biltmore Estate (Buncombe) on 24 Sep 2019 is apparently the first photographed in the mountains. Peak counts: one, except for the last report of two birds.
Finding Tips Try driving NC 12 down the Outer Banks in fall, a day or two after a strong cold front. A bird could appear on a telephone line anywhere there. Driving farmland roads near Lake Mattamuskeet, as well as along the lake's causeway, is also worth a try, a day or two after a cold front in fall.
Attribution LeGrand[2023-10-20], LeGrand[2023-08-10], LeGrand[2023-05-19]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.