Tyrannus melancholicustropical kingbird

Geographic Range

Tyrannus melancholicus breeds from southeastern Arizona (Nearctic Region) to South America (Neotropical Region). Its winters are spent in Mexico (Nearctic Region) to South America (Neotropical Region). ("Tropical Kingbird, Tyrannus melancholicus", 2003)


Tropical kingbirds are found in open woodlands, (particularly cottonwoods) that are near ponds or flowing streams. They can be found up to 2000 m in elevation. They inhabit open or semi-open country, avoiding densely forested areas, and can be found in temperate and tropical climates. Tropical kingbirds may also live in parks and suburbs. (Stouffer and Chesser, 1998; "Tropical Kingbird, Tyrannus melancholicus", 2003)

  • Range elevation
    2000 (high) m
    6561.68 (high) ft

Physical Description

Tyrannus melancholicus has a long, dark forked tail and a fairly large bill. It weighs 32 to 43 g, is 18 to 23 cm long and has a wingspan of about 12 cm. Its head is a pale gray with contrasting darker cheeks and a patch of reddish orange on its crown. It has grayish-olive upperparts, a pale throat, a darker upper breast and a bright yellow lower breast. The plumage is not greatly affected by seasonal change. The sexes are similar except for the size of the reddish-orange crown-patch and the difference in shape of the outer primaries (males' primaries are more distinctly notched). Females tend to weigh slightly more than males. Although juvenile tropical kingbirds are physically similar to adults, they have browner upperparts and pale edges to their wings. (Stouffer and Chesser, 1998; "Tropical Kingbird, Tyrannus melancholicus", 2003)

Tropical kingbirds are most similar to Couch's kingbirds (Tyrannus couchii) but can be distinguished by their call. Additionally, tropical kingbirds, although slightly smaller, have a longer bill than Couch's kingbirds. ("Tropical Kingbird, Tyrannus melancholicus", 2003)

The subspecies Tyrannus melancholicus satrapa is paler in color and smaller than T. melancholicus. (Stouffer and Chesser, 1998)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • Range mass
    32 to 43 g
    1.13 to 1.52 oz
  • Range length
    18 to 23 cm
    7.09 to 9.06 in
  • Average wingspan
    12 cm
    4.72 in


Tyrannus melancholicus is monogamous. The male will advertise his potential nesting site by calling. Calling is an important aspect of pair-bond formation; the pair bonds can last throughout the year or for just one mating season. (Stouffer and Chesser, 1998)

When courting, a perched male will flap its wings, sometimes lifting off from its perched position. (Stouffer and Chesser, 1998)

Tyrannus melancholicus may show aggressive behavior when defending its territory; chases often occur during the breeding season. Such aggressive behavior may include ruffling of crown feathers and a harsh series of vocalized twitters. (Stouffer and Chesser, 1998)

Because tropical kingbirds have a broad breeding range, the timing of breeding varies from place to place. They have one brood per season, with a clutch of 2 to 4 eggs. The egg-laying interval is between 1 and 2 days, and incubation lasts 15 to 16 days. Like many other birds, the nest is an open-cup that is usually located mid-story or in the canopy. The chicks fledge in 18 to 19 days and are independent in 32 to 33 days. (Stouffer and Chesser, 1998; "Tropical Kingbird, Tyrannus melancholicus", 2003)

  • Breeding interval
    Tropical kingbirds have one brood per season.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding season varies throughout the range.
  • Range eggs per season
    2 to 4
  • Range time to hatching
    15 to 16 days
  • Range fledging age
    18 to 19 days
  • Range time to independence
    32 to 33 days

Both the incubating and the brooding is done by the female only; nestlings are brooded until they are 10 days old. During this time, the female may leave the nest to forage for food, but she makes sure to forage near the nest. The male remains close to the nest to defend it, sometimes moving even closer if the female leaves the nest to forage for food. Both the female and male, however, take on the responsibility of feeding the nestlings insects and berries. It takes the nestlings approximately 18 to 19 days to fledge, and after fledging they are fed by their parents for at least another 2 weeks. (Stouffer and Chesser, 1998; "Tropical Kingbird, Tyrannus melancholicus", 2003)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • altricial
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female


Predators are the main cause of mortality among T. melancholicus. Nest failure, which may occur from overheating, strong winds, and precipitation, is also a threat to T. melancholicus. (Stouffer and Chesser, 1998)


Tropical kingbirds usually move by flying. They sleep on small twigs in low, isolated trees. They are active all day and may somtimes hunt near artificial light at night. (Stouffer and Chesser, 1998)

Home Range

We do not have information on home range for this species at this time.

Communication and Perception

As a songbird, Tyrannus melancholicus communicates primarily through vocalizations. It will call when greeting another tropical kingbird and when chasing a predator. A male will also call when it is courting and following its mate.

The common call, which varies depending on the context, sounds like a "tere-ee-ee, tril-il-il-iil-l," or "tre-e-e-e-eip." (Stouffer and Chesser, 1998)

Tropical kingbird's songs are given throughout the day, even in the middle of the day when most other birds are silent. They also sing a song known as the Dawn Song, which they begin before sunrise, before most of the other birds begin to sing. Tyrannus melancholicus will stop singing the Dawn Song by sunrise and will not repeat it until the dawn of the next morning. (Stouffer and Chesser, 1998)

When courting, a perched male will flap its wings, sometimes lifting off from its perched position.

Tyrannus melancholicus may show aggressive behavior when defending its territory; chases often occur during the breeding season. Such aggressive behavior may include ruffling of crown feathers and a harsh series of vocalized twitters. (Stouffer and Chesser, 1998)

Food Habits

Tyrannus melancholicus is primarily an insectivore; it also occasionally feeds on fruit. It feeds mostly on flying insects, including Coleoptera (beetles), Hymenoptera (particularly bees and wasps), Isoptera (termites), Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), Odonata (dragonflies), and Orthoptera (grasshoppers). Its fruit diet consists of seeded fruits and berries. (Stouffer and Chesser, 1998)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit


Aplomado falcons (Falco femoralis) have been known to prey on adult tropical kingbirds, while eggs and young have been attacked by swallow-tailed kites (Elanoides forficatus) and chestnut-mandibled toucans (Ramphastos swainsonii). Tyrannus melancholicus will aggressively harass a flying predator by dipping and dodging toward it from behind. It will also mob perched predators, attacking either individually, in pairs or in small groups. (Stouffer and Chesser, 1998)

Ecosystem Roles

Tyrannus melancholicus acts as a host for various species of cowbirds. This means that the cowbirds will lay their eggs in a tropical kingbird's nest, and the tropical kingbird will raise the cowbird young as if it were its own. It is also host to many species of parasites. These include parasites that live in the bird's blood, body cavity, and on its skin. Nasal mites have also been found living in T. melancholicus. (Stouffer and Chesser, 1998)

Tyrannus melancholicus also plays an important role in seed dispersal, and as an insectivore it serves as an important predator for insects. (Stouffer and Chesser, 1998; Wutherich, et al., 2001)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Tyrannus melancholicus is beneficial in agricultural areas because it feeds on insects that may be crop pests (for example, grasshoppers). (Stouffer and Chesser, 1998)

  • Positive Impacts
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse affects of Tyrannus melancholicus on humans. ("Tropical Kingbird, Tyrannus melancholicus", 2003; Stouffer and Chesser, 1998)

Conservation Status

Tropical kingbirds are protected under the US Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Other Comments

Western kingbirds (Tyrannus verticalis), a species very similar in appearance and behavior to T. melancholicus, have been discovered to reuse their nests after one breeding season is over. This is very helpful to a bird, since nest-building requires a great deal of energy; as many as 2500 trips may be required to make an adequate nest. These trips to and from the nest also expose the birds to increased chances of predation. However, there are drawbacks to nest reuse, the old nests may carry diseases or parasites, and they may not last the entire season due to various problems, including previous structural damage. (Bergin, 1997)


Alaine Camfield (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

April Wong (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



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


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

World Map


uses sound to communicate


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

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.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

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


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


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).


Having one mate at a time.


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.


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


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


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


living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


uses sight to communicate


USGS, Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center. 2003. "Tropical Kingbird, Tyrannus melancholicus" (On-line). Accessed March 31, 2004 at http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/id/framlst/i4460id.html.

Bergin, T. 1997. Nest Reuse By Western Kingbirds. The Wilson Bulletin, 109(4): 735-737.

Stouffer, P., R. Chesser. 1998. Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus). A Poole, F Gill, eds. The Birds of North America, Vol. 358. The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, and The American Ornithologist's Union, Washington, D.C.

Wutherich, D., A. Azocar, C. Garcia-Nunez, J. Silva. 2001. Seed dispersal in Palicourea rigida, a common treelet species from neotropical savannas. Journal of Tropical Ecology, 17: 449-458.