Pitangus sulphuratusgreat kiskadee

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Geographic Range

Pitangus sulphuratus are most commonly found in wet woodland and savannah areas in the eastern region of North America, such as Texas and Louisiana. Also, many individuals are found in South America and Central Argentina (Whitfield 1984).

Habitat

Great kiskadees are commonly found in open woodland, scrub, thickets, streamsides, groves, parks and towns. In the tropics, they avoid dense, unbroken forests for open habitats near water (Campbell et al 1985, Kaufmann 1996).

Physical Description

Other names that P. sulphuratus are known as are great kiskadees and derby flycatchers. Kiskadees can range from 21 to 26 cm in length. They are large birds with big heads. They are among the larger species in the diverse family of tyrant flycatchers. Their sides and crown of the head are bold and black, with a white line above the eye. Their chest area and under parts are bright yellow while their throat is white and their back and tail are brown. They are monomorphic, in that both males and females are quite similar. They are alike in being medium sized and having relatively long wings and short legs. Their color is similar also as the dark structures of the beak, face and back contrast with their yellow mid-section (Kaufmann 1996, Long 1981, Perrins et al 1985).

  • Range mass
    52 to 68 g
    1.83 to 2.40 oz

Reproduction

There is little known about P. sulphuratus reproductive cycles. The breeding season begins in late March. They tend to breed in trees, near rivers, lakes, streams, lakes or in woodland or swamp areas. The nest is placed in a crotch of a tree, 10 to 30 feet above ground. The nest is made out of a bulky mass of dry vines stems, grasses, plant fibers, weeds and spanish moss. The interior is developed with softer, finer material like wool and feathers. The female can have 2 to 5 eggs while the average is 4. The eggs are characterized as being smooth, glossy, creamy white, and dotted with dark brown specks. Then, both adult kiskadees assist in feeding their young. Development of offspring and the age at first flight are not known (Harrison 1978, Kaufmann 1996, Long 1981).

Lifespan/Longevity

Behavior

Kiskadees are one of the biggest and brightest species of the tyrant flycatchers. They are bold, noisy and active, especially when producing their loud call, "kis-ka-dee". Nicknamed after their call, they are found only in the new world, from Texas South to Argentina. They may actually be increasing in the tropics as they move into recently cut rain forest areas.

Great kiskadees move around mostly in pairs and live in monogamous pairs on aggressively defended nesting territories.

To avoid a feared predator, like a coral snake, they stay away from anything with its color pattern, even if it is a wooden rod painted with yellow and red rings. This instinctive response guides them, as it would be too dangerous to take the time to examine if something snake-like actually is a coral snake. (Ehrlich 1988, Kaufmann 1996, Short 1993, Whitfield 1984).

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

These birds are omnivorous; they can eat almost anything. Frequently, they perch above the water and then plunge into it, capturing fish, tadpoles and frogs. After about the third or the fourth dive, they need to dry out in the sun. Therefore, they will switch to catching beetles, wasps and other flying insects. However, when those resources are scarce during the winter, they feed on seeds, fruits and berries. They also eat lizards, mice and baby birds (Ehrlich 1988, Kaufmann 1996, Perrins et al 1985).

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

With their wide range of selecting what to eat, P. sulphuratus sometimes capture Anolis lizards. The lizards are known for feeding on predatory beetles such as ladybirds, that help to control the scale of insect infestations (Long 1981).

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Many P. sulphuratus feed on other bird's nests and their offspring, causing substantial decreases of cardinals, catbirds and white-eyed vireos. The decline of other bird population may indirectly affect humans (Long 1981).

Conservation Status

Great Kiskadees are abundant in their wetland and woodland environments. In places like Bermuda, they are the third most common species, with population densities as high as 8 to 10 pairs per hectare. Human trade or hunting are not a large threat to them (Long 1981).

Contributors

Alesia Hsiao (author), University of California, Irvine, Rudi Berkelhamer (editor), University of California, Irvine.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

Neotropical

living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

tactile

uses touch to communicate

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

Campbell, B., E. Lack. 1985. A Dictionary of Birds. Great Britain:

Ehrlich, P. 1988. The Birder's Handbook. A field guide to the national history of North American birds. NY:

Harrison, C. 1978. A Field Guide to the Nests, Eggs and Nestlings of North American Birds. NY:

Kaufmann, K. 1996. Lives of North American Birds. NY:

Perrins, C., A. Middleton. 1985. The Encyclopedia of Birds. NY:

Short, L. 1993. The Lives of Birds. NY:

Whitfield, 1984. MacMillian Illustrated Animal Encyclopedia. NY: