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Songbirds of North Dakota

Tyrant Flycatchers

Family Tyrannidae

Flycatchers are members of the family Tyrannidae, which is taken from the Greek word tyrannas, meaning "lord or ruler". These birds are the most aggressive and biologically successful of the primitive songbirds. The name "flycatcher" is given to this family of birds because they catch insects out of the air for food. Most of the 35 species in the United States are plain brown, gray, olive-green, or yellow in color with the female and male similar in appearance. They have large heads and prominent bristles at the base of the bill. Members of this family which can be seen in North Dakota include the great crested flycatcher, eastern wood-pewee, eastern phoebe, Say's phoebe, least flycatcher, willow flycatcher, eastern kingbird, and western kingbird.

Eastern Kingbird
Tyrannus tyrannus

JPG -- Picture and Range Map of Species

The eastern kingbird has a black head, slate gray colored back, and white underparts. It can often be recognized by a broad white band across the terminal end of the tail feathers. The eastern kingbird feeds on several hundred different insects species and will also feed on berries as a secondary food source. The main mode of hunting is to fly from a perch and catch insects out of mid-air. The eastern kingbird will also land on the ground to eat insects or pluck them from the surface of the water.

The eastern kingbird builds a cup-shaped nest about 5 inches in diameter and lays 3-5 eggs marked irregularly with small blotches of brown. Eastern kingbirds will nest statewide and can be found in open country from April through September.

Western Kingbird
Tyrannus verticalis

JPG -- Picture and Range Map of Species

The western kingbird is similar in size and shape to the eastern kingbird. It differs only in color by having a bright yellow belly, pale gray throat and breast, dark wings, and a gray back tinged with olive. It is an insect eater and feeds by darting out from a tree, low brush, a fence post, or other structure to catch bees, wasps, dragonflies, and butterflies. The western kingbird will often drop to the ground to eat caterpillars, grasshoppers, crickets, and occasionally a tree frog. The bird lives in open country around ranches and towns but avoids large tracts of forest. The female builds a nest in trees or other structures and lays 3-7 white eggs speckled with brown spots. The western kingbird is very aggressive and will attack hawks, crows, and ravens which come close to its nest. Humans have also been dived upon by this bird, however, the outcome is more surprising than harmful.

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