This small, white-bellied, conspicuous species has the largest distribution of any North American kingbird. Monotypic. Length 7.8–9.2".
Adult: black head blends to slate gray back; central crown patch varies from red to yellow. Dark gray wings; narrow white edgings to upperwing coverts and secondaries. Black tail with conspicuous white terminal band. White underparts; gray patches on sides of breast, paler gray wash across middle of breast. Extensively gray underwing coverts. Juvenile: generally similar but paler grayish brown upperparts contrast with blackish mask; white tail tips narrower.
Adults in reasonably fresh plumage are virtually unmistakable. Immatures and worn adults, both of which can have somewhat paler or browner upperparts and reduced white tail tips, can be superficially similar to gray or thick-billeds but would still be overall smaller and smaller billed. Immature fork-taileds are also superficially similar but have more head-back contrast, a longer tail, and a whiter center of breast.
Call: Single or variety of zeer, dzeet, or trilled notes. Dawn song: a series of complex notes and trills, which are repeated over and over, t’t’tzeer, t’t’tzeer, t’tzeetzeetzee.
Status and Distribution
Common. Breeding: open areas in a variety of habitats that have trees or shrubs for nest sites. Migration: diurnal migrant, often observed in loose flocks; at least some trans-Gulf movement. In spring, mid-March–mid-June, peaks mid-April–mid-May; in west mid-May-June. In fall, late July–mid-October, peaks mid-August–early September.; mostly gone by end of September, rare after early October. Winter: South America, mainly western Amazonia (eastern Ecuador and Peru, western Brazil), but also casually as far south and east as northern Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, eastern Brazil, and Guyana. Vagrant: rare during migration to Pacific coast, southwestern states, Bermuda, Bahamas, Cuba; casual to Alaska, southern Yukon, Hudson Bay, central Quebec, Newfoundland, Greenland.
Generally stable; relatively tolerant of human disturbances.
—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006