Content for this page researched and created by Ashtyn Neibar
Thousands of birds are native to Cuba, but the Loggerhead Kingbird, also knowns as the Tyrannus caudifasciatus, is one of the most common birds flying around the beautiful island. In the current International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Loggerheads are in the category of least concern with an estimated population of over 10,000 mature individuals (Ekstrom). This bird can be found all through the Caribbean (Kaufman), but is most common in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico (Ekstrom). Loggerheads have been known to stay in Florida for several weeks at a time (Kaufman), though they are not conclusively established there (Kratter). In 1995, there were only 5 reports of this bird being seen in the US (Bowman) but the number has since grown. The bird was added and then later removed from both the American Birding Association’s list of birds seen in the United States and the Florida Ornithological Society’s list of observed birds in 2003 (Clark).
Unlike most of the colorful birds that live in tropical regions, the loggerhead is mostly brown on the wings and back. It has a white stomach and a dark brown, almost black, head, and weighs between 43 (Dick) and 55 grams (Oniki). Males tend to be on the lower end of the weight scale and the females on the higher end (Garrido). For unknown reasons, it has been observed that Loggerheads on the Cuban Cays tend to weigh around ten grams less than the average recorded weight anywhere else (Garrido). It has also been recorded that there are considerably more males in the population than females (Garrido).
These birds are usually nine to ten inches long, or twenty-four to twenty-six centimeters (Raffaele. Dick). They have square shaped, dull white or pale gray tail feathers (Bowman. Plunkett) and their tails are not notched (Bond). Their temperature has been found to range between forty-three point 8 degrees and forty-four point four degrees Celsius (Oniki).
Loggerheads have an average wing span of 15 inches (Dick), and these birds share a lot of differences from other kingbirds. Loggerheads have a longer and heavier bill but shorter, more rounded wings than kingbirds ordinarily possess (Sprunt and Bowman). In Cuba, these birds are known for their chunky, big head and the natives have nicknamed this bird “hard-head bird” (Kaufman. Bond).
Loggerheads are equipped with specialized whisker-like feathers (Plunkett) that help them catch their food. It was originally thought that most of this bird’s diet consisted of insects, especially flies (Plunkett). It was later discovered, however, that their diet consist of less than 50 percent insects (Borkhataria). They prefer hunting in the woods below the canopy (Sprunt) where they have been known to eat frogs, worms, spiders, snails, and millipedes (Perez-Rivera). Biologists have also witnessed this bird display some foraging behaviors, such as eating berries (Burchsted). The most interesting part of the loggerhead’s eating behavior is the bird’s problem solving abilities. Once, a loggerhead was seen making short flights to capture food (Raffaele). It captured a sesarma crab, flew up into a tree where it was safe, hit the crab off the tree a couple times to break it’s shell, then swallowed it (Burchsted). While loggerheads are not commonly considered a predator of vertebrates (Powell), a large part of their diet consists of fish and small lizards (Burchsted). Some of their favorites include blue-fanned anole and Jamaican giant anoles (Powell).
Loggerheads can create a wide range vocalizations including songs, defensive warnings, and alarms (Borkhataria). Though some think they can be clearly identified through their vocalizations (Kratter), this bird can easily be mistaken for the Eastern Kingbird (Bond). Their most common vocalizations sound like “cheeerup” (Borkhataria), a bubbling repeated ppq sound (Raffaele), and a long “pit-pit-pit-pit-pit-tirr-ri-ri-eee” sound (Garrido).
The nesting behavior of loggerhead kingbirds has been well recorded. Because they are such social birds, they breed in a variety of settings. However they seem to prefer dense forests (Lloyd) especially around waterlogged areas (Kirwan). There are specific reserves patrolled by forest guards that fit these criteria that have become very popular nesting areas for these birds (Kirwan). Nesting season occurs between April and July (Garrido), and their nests consist of sticks, bark strips, and other plant materials. They then line the nest with mosses, grasses, and other soft and fine material. The females commonly lay between 3 and 5 eggs, and she is the only one who incubates them (Sohl). When the juvenile’s hatch, they have brownish wing bars and they lack the crown patch (Garrido). Hawks are the main predators of juvenile loggerheads (Clark) and loggerhead parents even get a little help from other birds to keep their young safe. It has been observed that the adult male of the nest chases off birds like Kestrels, Greater Antillean Grackles, and Woodpeckers. But more importantly, there are “sentinel” birds that are allowed to stay close to the nest when the parents are not there. These birds include Black-Whiskered Vireos, White-winged Doves, and Yellow-billed Parrots (Downer).
Another way both parents care for their young is to open their wings over the nestlings to shade them from rain or heat (Downer). It’s estimated that the young birds leave the nest for the first time by around 20 days after hatching (Sohl) but are still regularly cared for by their parents until they learn to catch their own food.
Some think that the Loggerhead does not belong in the family of Tyrannus, because these are mostly insect-eating kingbirds. As already explained, the Loggerhead does not primarily eat insects and has many physical differences from other Kingbirds. Mobley believes that the bird belongs in the Empidonomus genus, which is still in the Tyrannus family, but shares more physical features with the Loggerhead that correspond to other tropical species assemblage (Mobley).
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Loggerhead on Thorns. (F. Veronesi)
Loggerhead on tree. (J. Oldenettel)
Loggerhead on nails. (H. Cortina)