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A photo of a Couch's Kingbird (Tyrannus couchii)
Couch's Kingbird

Couch's Kingbird

Tyrannus couchii

The Couch's kingbird, a member of the tyrant flycatcher family, is a passerine bird with a robust physique, measuring approximately 7 inches in length. It boasts a large head and bill, and a distinctive dark, forked tail. The plumage is a study in contrasts: a pale gray head with darker cheeks, grayish-olive upperparts, and a bright yellow lower breast. The throat is pale, transitioning to a darker breast. Juvenile Couch's kingbirds present with browner underparts and pale-edged wings compared to their adult counterparts.

Identification Tips

To identify the Couch's kingbird, look for its large head and bill, dark forked tail, and the striking coloration of pale gray and yellow. The cheeks are a darker shade, providing a contrast to the pale gray head. The upperparts are grayish-olive, while the lower breast is vividly yellow. Juveniles can be distinguished by their browner underparts and the pale edges on their wings.

Habitat

Couch's kingbird favors lightly wooded areas, including sparse forests, suburban regions, thorn forests, and the peripheries of wooded streams. It has a particular affinity for water, especially rivers, and is often observed near roadsides and forest edges.

Distribution

This species is indigenous to southern Texas, the Gulf Coast to the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico, Belize, and northern Guatemala. It can also be found in the lower stretches of the Rio Grande Valley. Notably, a vagrant individual was sighted in New York City in December 2014, captivating many birdwatchers.

Behaviour

Couch's kingbird typically exhibits a perching behavior, vigilantly scanning its surroundings for insect movement. It adeptly captures prey mid-flight, hovers above, or executes swift swoops to seize its meal. After the hunt, it returns to its perch to consume the insects.

Song & calls

The call of the Couch's kingbird is distinctively raspier and more complex than its relatives, with a varied pitch that serves as a reliable identifier.

Breeding

While specific nesting behaviors are not well-documented, it is surmised that Couch's kingbird shares similarities with the tropical kingbird in its reproductive habits. Nesting occurs in lightly wooded areas, with a preference for sugar hackberry, cedar elm, Texas ebony, and Mexican ash trees. The nest, likely constructed by the female, is a flat, cup-like structure composed of twigs, leaves, weeds, moss, and bark, and lined with softer materials like rootlets, plant down, and Spanish moss. Positioned on higher branches, the nest is zealously defended by the adults. The incubation period and parental roles in feeding the young are not thoroughly understood, but it is believed that both parents participate in caring for the offspring.

Similar Species

Couch's kingbird can be easily mistaken for the tropical kingbird due to their close resemblance. However, the tropical kingbird prefers more open environments, while Couch's kingbird resides in more wooded settings. Cassin's kingbird and the western kingbird are also similar in appearance but can be differentiated by their darker head color, white-tipped outer tail feathers, and chest coloration.

Diet and Feeding

Primarily insectivorous, the Couch's kingbird also partakes in frugivory, consuming small berries and seeds. Its diet includes larger insects such as beetles, grasshoppers, wasps, and large flies. However, the full extent of its diet remains somewhat enigmatic due to limited observations.

Conservation status

The Couch's kingbird is classified as Least Concern by the IUCN, with a population that appears to be on the rise. In Texas, the population is stable, but in Mexico, it experiences fluctuations due to urbanization and deforestation.

Couch's Kingbird Sounds



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