Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark
Read Caption
A Cassin's kingbird photographed at Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network in California
Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark

Cassin's Kingbird

The Cassin’s is fairly widespread at middle elevations in the southwestern and west-central United States, where it overlaps extensively with the western kingbird. Monotypic. Length 8.4–9.2".


Adult: dark gray head and nape (mask less obvious); semi­concealed orange-red central crown patch; dark grayish olive back, brownish wings. Dark gray chest contrasts with white chin, blends to yellow belly and olive flanks. Tail squared or slightly notched; brownish black with an indistinct pale gray terminal band. Relatively small bill. Juvenile: similar but wings edged pale cinnamon and pale tail tip less obvious.

Similar Species

The western has paler upperparts and chest; much less chin-breast contrast; and darker wings and black tail with white outer web of outer feather pair (but beware westerns completely lacking outer tail feathers or with worn-off outer webs). The Cassin’s has pale (but not pure white) outer web. The thick-billed, tropical, and Couch’s have paler or yellower breasts, uniformly brown tails, and heavier bills; tropical and Couch’s also have paler backs and deeply notched tails.


Call: single or repeated, strident kabeer; rapidly repeated ki-dih or ki-dear. Dawn song: a repeated rruh rruh rruh-rruh rreahr, rruh ree reeuhr (possibly confused with the buff-collared nightjar’s).

Status and Distribution

Common. Breeding: open, mature woodlands, including riparian, oak, and pinyon-juniper. Migration: relatively infrequently detected away from breeding sites. In spring, mid-March–early June, peak April–May. In fall, departure late July–October, peak September. Winter: western to central-southern Mexico. Locally resident in coastal southern California. Vagrant: casual/accidental to Oregon, Ontario, Massachusetts, Virginia, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Florida.



—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006