LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD: BENIGN ‘TYRANT’ OF ABACO


Loggerhead Kingbird, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD: BENIGN ‘TYRANT’ OF ABACO

Abaco is home to 4 main so-called tyrant flycatchers (Tyrannidae): the loggerhead kingbird, the gray kingbird, the La Sagra’s flycatcher and the Cuban pewee. All are common permanent residents except the gray kingbird, which is a summer resident only. Several other flycatcher species are found on Abaco, but they are very uncommon winter residents, rare transients, or vagrants.

Loggerhead Kingbird, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

The loggerhead featured here in several poses is a watchful sentinel at Delphi. His preferred perches are in the edge of the coppice round the pool or at the edge of the main drive. From time to time he will leave his perch to catch a passing insect by ‘hawking’, returning to the same place to eat it.

Loggerhead Kingbird, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Loggerhead and gray kingbirds can be quite easy to confuse. A couple of years ago I wrote about how to distinguish them, and with gray kingbirds in residence now this is probably a good time to set out the distinctions again.

Loggerhead Kingbird, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

LOGGERHEAD Tyrannus caudifasciatus vs GRAY Tyrannus dominicensis 

DIFFERENCES and SIMILARITIES

TOP TIP ANY KINGBIRD SEEN IN WINTER WILL BE A LOGGERHEAD

  • Kingbirds seen between (say) October & March are Loggerheads. Grays are strictly summer visitors
  • Both are medium size birds and roughly the same size as adults (around 23 cms)
  • Loggerheads have dark brown to near-black heads, grays have lighter, slate-coloured heads
  • Loggerheads have a ‘squared’ tip to the tail; grays have a notched tip
  • Loggerheads may have a whitish fringe at the tip of the tail; grays not so
  • Loggerheads have yellowish tinges to their white undersides & forewings; grays less so or not at all
  • Grays have a dark or black ‘mask’ through the eyes, often clear but not always easy to see
  • Loggerheads allegedly have inconspicuous orange head crests; grays are red. I’ve never seen either!
  • [*RH personal opinion alert*] Grays have larger, heavier beaks than loggerheads
  • Grays are territorially aggressive; when they turn up, the loggerheads tend to retreat to the forest

Loggerhead Kingbird, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Here is how David Sibley shows the differences

 6323_Sibl_9780307957900_art_r1 3069_Sibl_9780307957900_art_r1-1

Illustrations: David Allen Sibley

GRAY KINGBIRD FOR COMPARISONGray_Kingbird (Dick Daniels Wiki)

MEMORABLE FACT TO DEPLOY IN CONVERSATION

The collective names for a group of kingbirds are: a Court, a Coronation, or a Tyranny

Loggerhead Kingbird, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Photo Credits: All loggerheads, Keith Salvesen at Delphi;  gray kingbird by Dick Daniels; Illustrations David Sibley

LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHERS REVISITED ON ABACO


LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHERS REVISITED ON ABACO

LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHER Myiarchus sagrae is one of 3 permanent resident ‘tyrant’ flycatchers found on Abaco, the others being the CUBAN PEWEE and the LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD. In the summer, they are joined by another commonly-found species, the GRAY KINGBIRD. There are other flycatchers, but they are seasonal, transient or vagrant, and far less common. 

Two classic LSF poses: ‘head-on-one-side’ & ‘watching-for-insects’

I have just been watching one of these frankly rather very cute little birds as it patiently watched me watching it. I wasn’t very close, and I kept my distance because it seemed a little wary and I didn’t want to blow the chance of a couple of photos – the familiar ‘bird-flies-off-just-as-shutter-pressed’ syndrome.

Sized between the little cuban pewee, with its diagnostic crescent eyes, and the larger loggerhead kingbird (see below), the LSF shares with them the ability to raise its crest. I was luckily able to catch this on camera – and also some singing.

As the name suggests, the species is primarily insectivore, fly-catching in the undergrowth and low scrub or ‘hawking’ from branches. However these birds also eat berries and seeds. Their call is a high pitched single or double noted sound described as ‘wink’. Here’s a Bahamian example.

Paul Driver / Xeno-Canto

The LSF’s natural habitat is coppice and rough scrubland. It builds its nest in a tree cavity or similar natural hole, and usually lays a clutch of two to four eggs. And this morning by coincidence, Abaco birder Rhonda Pearce posted a photo of a LSF nest with its eggs.

ID CONFUSION

Here are the two flycatcher species, mentioned above, that might cause confusion:

CUBAN PEWEE

LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD

Ramón Dionisio José de la Sagra y Peris (1798–1871)

For those who may be wondering who – or what – a ‘La Sagra’ is, the answer is: a multi-talented Spanish botanist. He was also a writer, economist, sociologist, politician, anarchist, and founder of the world’s first anarchist journal El Porvenir (“The Future”). At one time he lived in Cuba and became director of Havana’s Botanical Garden. His name lives on arguably more significantly in ornithological than in anarchist circles (actually, an ‘anarchist circle’ must surely be an oxymoron…)

[I note in passing that La Sagra is a provincial area in Spain, an Italian festive celebration, a chocolatier, or a small comet – all of which meanings may have to be negotiated online before you get to the flycatcher…]

To continue with the occasional PHILATELIC theme of this blog, here are stamps from the Cayman Islands and Cuba featuring the La Sagra’s Flycatcher. The Cuban stamp commemorates the death of Juan Gundlach, the man who chose La Sagra’s name to bestow on the LSF. The colouring is… somewhat unrealistic!

Credits: All photos Keith Salvesen except nest (Rhonda Pearce) and loggerhead kingbird (Mrs RH); recording by Paul Driver / Xeno-Canto; stamps O/S

WATCHFUL TYRANT: A LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD ON ABACO


Loggerhead Kingbird, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

WATCHFUL TYRANT: A LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD ON ABACO

The Delphi Club on Abaco has a number of permanent residents (or by now – let’s be realistic – maybe their descendants). There’s the huge curly tail lizard that lives under the large stones by the outside staircase. There are the West Indian Woodpeckers that noisily nest in a box under the eaves of the verandah and produce 2 batches of shouty chicks each summer. And there is the silent sentinel – a loggerhead kingbird that spends much of its time in the trees and bushes at the far side of the pool.

Loggerhead Kingbird, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

It’s a good place to chose. The bird uses the tree branches and shrubs to ‘hawk’ for passing insects, suddenly leaving its perch to pounce, before returning to just the same place to eat its snack – classic flycatcher behaviour. I call it the ‘watchful tyrant’ because the kingbird is nearly always there. Somewhere. If you look carefully and wait patiently. He stays in the shade, so he’s not bright with sunlight (or P/shop) in these photos. This is just the way he is.

Loggerhead Kingbird, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Kingbirds are of the family Tyrannidae and the genus Tyrannus. The ‘tyrant’ group includes a number of flycatcher species commonly found on Abaco: the KINGBIRDS (loggerhead and gray), the CUBAN PEWEE and the LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHER being the most familiar. Note the hook at the end of the beak; and the yellowish tinge to the undertail area.

Loggerhead Kingbird, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

With the exception of the gray kingbird, the flycatchers named above are very common permanent breeders on Abaco. There’s probably one of them within 20 feet of your house right now. The gray, however, is a summer breeding resident. This is most helpful of it: if you see a kingbird between October and April, it will be a loggerhead. This gives you a 6-month window for near-certain ID.

Loggerhead Kingbird, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

IT’S SUMMER – SO HOW DO I TELL A LOGGERHEAD FROM A GRAY?

EASY. CLICK HERE

All photos: Keith Salvesen; Cartoon by the legendary Birdorable

‘TYRANTS OF ABACO’: FLYCATCHER ID (1) – LOGGERHEAD vs GRAY KINGBIRD


Loggerhead Kingbird, Abaco - Tom Reed

Loggerhead Kingbird with bee. Note dark head, yellowish underside

‘TYRANTS OF ABACO’: FLYCATCHER ID (1)

LOGGERHEAD vs GRAY KINGBIRD

Gray Kingbird, Abaco - Tom Sheley

Gray Kingbird: note dark eye ‘mask’, lighter head, mainly white underside & notched tail

Abaco has 275 (or so) recorded bird species. Omitting the transients, vagrants and (frankly) oddities – hello, feral peafowl of Casuarina – and concentrating on the residents and the summer / winter migrants brings the checklist down considerably. Maybe to around 200. But there is still an awful lot of scope for species confusion. This is frequently found with the warblers (37 species, mostly yellow), shorebirds and (my particular blind spot) gulls & terns with all their gender, age, season and breeding plumage variations. There is one common confusion that surrounds just 4 birds. I’ve decided to tackle the issue because these are the birds I am most frequently asked by people to identify. They send me their photos or a link, or post them on my FB page, and I am always delighted to help. Except… I get confused myself sometimes. So now I plan to demystify the Tyrant Flycatchers (Tyrannidae) of Abaco once and for all. Or for the time being, anyway.

ABACO’S TYRANT FLYCATCHER SPECIES

Tyrant Flycatcher Checklist jpg

There are 14 tyrant species recorded for Abaco, as listed in the checklist clip above taken from “THE BIRDS OF ABACO” (a FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER was seen recently for the first time on Abaco, and will in due course be added to the checklist). You’ll be relieved to learn that we can at once dispense of 10 of the above for present purposes. In practical terms – i.e. everyday life – the only flycatchers you need to be concerned with are the 4 underlined in red above: Cuban Pewee, Gray Kingbird, La Sagra’s Flycatcher and Loggerhead Kingbird. The underlined codes provide useful information for each bird .

  • PR 3 of the 4 are permanent residents – not the gray kingbird, which is SR a summer resident
  • B    these 4 are the only flycatchers that breed on Abaco
  • 1     all 4 are widespread, commonly and easily found. All other candidates are unusual to very rare
Loggerhead Kingbird, Abaco - Gerlinde Taurer

Which is this?

LOGGERHEAD Tyrannus caudifasciatus vs GRAY Tyrannus dominicensis 

DIFFERENCES and SIMILARITIES

TOP TIP ANY KINGBIRD SEEN IN WINTER WILL BE A LOGGERHEAD

  • A kingbird seen between (say) October and March is a Loggerhead. Grays are strictly summer visitors
  • Both are medium size birds and roughly the same size as adults (around 23 cms)
  • Loggerheads have dark brownish heads (some say black), grays have lighter, slate-coloured heads
  • Loggerheads have a ‘squared’ tip to the tail; grays have a notched tip
  • Loggerheads may have a whitish fringe at the tip of the tail; grays not so
  • Loggerheads have yellowish tinges to their white undersides & forewings; grays less so or not at all
  • Grays have a dark or black ‘mask’ through the eyes, often clear but not always easy to see
  • Loggerheads allegedly have inconspicuous orange head crests; grays are red. I’ve never seen either!
  • [*RH opinion alert*] Grays have larger, heavier beaks than loggerheads
  • Grays are territorially aggressive; when they turn up, the loggerheads tend to retreat to the forest

Here is how David Sibley shows the differences

 6323_Sibl_9780307957900_art_r1 3069_Sibl_9780307957900_art_r1-1

Illustrations: David Allen Sibley

Gray or Loggerhead? Note the light head, discernible mask & notched tailGray Kingbird, Abaco - Tom Sheley

Loggerhead or Gray? Note the darker head and no maskLoggerhead Kingbird.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

GRAY KINGBIRDS: masked & notch-tailedGray Kingbird, Abaco - Alex Hughes Gray Kingbird (Charlesjsharp Wiki) Gray_Kingbird (Dick Daniels Wiki)

CLASSIC LOGGERHEAD: squarer tail, yellowish underside, dark head, hint of a crestLoggerhead Kingbird Abaco - Peter Mantle

COMMON TO ALL FLYCATCHERS An Insect ‘Hook’ at the tip of this Loggerhead’s ‘top’ billLoggerhead Kingbird, Abaco (Mrs RH)

MEMORABLE FACT TO DEPLOY IN CONVERSATION

The collective names for a group of kingbirds are: a Court, a Coronation, or a Tyranny

I hope this helps with ID, but it’s fair to say that even the birds shown here don’t conform strictly to the rules. A couple of gray kingbirds have distinctly yellowish undersides. And the real problem is this: you see a medium-size bird. It is hawking for insects. It is high summer. It’s a kingbird. It is 150 feet away, and against the sun. It’s just a darkish bird. You can’t see a notched tail or yellowish underside, still less a mask. But at least you can be confident that you can restrict the ID to just 2 birds… Just ask me which, and I’ll do my best…

NEXT UP LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHER vs CUBAN PEWEE 

Credits: Tom Reed (1), Tom Sheley (2, 4, 5), Gerlinde Taurer (3), Mrs RH (6, 7), Alex Hughes (8), Charles Sharp (9), Dick Daniels (10), Peter Mantle (11), RH (12); Illustrations David Sibley