Loggerhead Kingbird

Content for this page researched and created by Ashtyn Neibar


Photo by J. Oldenettel
Photo by F. Veronesi

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).

Photo by J. Oldenettel
Photo by J. Oldenettel

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).

Photo by H. Cortina
Photo by H. Cortina

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).

General References:

Bond, James. Birds of the West Indies: A Guide to the Species of Birds That Inhabit the Greater Antilles, Lesser Antilles and Bahama Islands. New York: Ishi International, 2015. 151-52. Print.

Clark, Cammy. “Rare Bird has Fans Chirping.” McClatchy – Tribune Business News: 1. 2007. Lionsearch.     Web. 28 September 2015.

Dick, Gary Owen. Loggerhead Kingbird. Field Guide to Birds of North America. Percevia, n.d. Google.    Web. 29 September 2015.

Ekstrom, J., and S. Butchart. Loggerhead Kingbird (Tyrannus caudifasciatus). Bird Life International. N.p., 2015. Google. Web. 29 September 2015.

Garrido, Orlando H., and Arturo Kirkconnell. Field Guide to the Birds of Cuba. Ithaca, NY: Comstock Pub., 2000. 159-60. Print.

Kaufman, Kenn. Loggerhead Kingbird. Audubon. N.p., 13 Nov. 2014. Google. Web. 29 September 2015.

Kirwan, Guy M., Arturo Kirkconnell, and G. Michael. Flieg. A Birdwatchers’ Guide to Cuba, Jamaica,Hispaniola, Puerto Rico and the Caymans. Cley next the Sea, Norfolk: Prion, 2010. Print.

Mobley, J., and E. Juana. Loggerhead Kingbird (Tyrannus Caudifasciatus). Loggerhead Kingbird (Tyrannus Caudifasciatus). Lynx Edicions, 2014. Google. Web. 29 September 2015.

Plunkett, Dennis. The Loggerhead Kingbird. Dry Tortugas. N.p., 30 July 2013. Google. Web. 29 September 2015.

Raffaele, Herbert A., and James W. Wiley. Wildlife of the Caribbean. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2014. 168-69. Print.

Sohl, Terry L. Loggerhead Kingbird. – Species Information and Photos. South Dakota Birds, n.d. Google. Web. 29 September 2015.

Scientific References:

Borkhataria, Rena R., Jaime A. Collazo, and Martha J. Groom. “Species abundance and potential biological control services in shade vs. sun coffee in Puerto Rico.” Agriculture, ecosystems & environment 151 (2012): 1-5. GoogleScholar. Web. 28 September 2015.

Bowman, Reed, P. William Smith, and John W. Fitzpatrick. “First winter record of an Eastern Kingbird in Florida.” Florida Field Naturalist 23 (1995): 62-64. GoogleScholar. Web. 28 September 2015.

Burchsted, A, and G. Chambers. “Loggerhead Kingbirds Feeding on Sesarma Crabs.” The Wilson Bulletin. 101.3 (1989): 507-8. Lionsearch. Web. 28 September 2015.

Downer, Audrey. “Nesting of the Loggerhead Kingbird.” EBSCO:Wildlife 1991: 2-3. Penn State Illiad. Web.  9 Oct. 2015.

Garrido, Orlando H., James W. Wiley, and George B. Reynard. “Taxonomy of the Loggerhead Kingbird    (Tyrannus Caudifasciatus) Complex (Aves: Tyrannidae).”The Wilson Journal of Ornithology 121.4   (2009): 703-13. Lionsearch. Web. 28 September 2015.

Kratter, Andrew W. “Seventeenth report of the Florida Ornithological Society Records Committee: 2007.” Florida Field Naturalist 36.4 (2008): 94-111. GoogleScholar. Web. 28 September 2015.

Lloyd, John D., and G. L. Slater. “Abundance and distribution of breeding birds in the pine forests of        Grand Bahama, Bahamas.” Journal of Caribbean Ornithology 24.1 (2011): 1. GoogleScholar. Web. 28 September 2015.

Oniki, Yoshika. “Temperatures of some Puerto Rican birds, with note of low temperatures in Todies.”  Auk 7 (1975): 243-251. GoogleScholar. Web. 28 September 2015.

Pérez-Rivera, Raúl A.” The Importance of Vertebrates in the Diet of Tanagers (La Importancia de Vertebrados en la Dieta de Plañideras).” Journal of Field Ornithology (1997): 178-182. GoogleScholar. Web. September 2015.

Powell, Robert, and Robert W. Henderson. “Avian predators of West Indian reptiles.” Iguana15 (2008): 9-11. GoogleScholar. Web. 6 October 2015.

Sprunt IV, Alexander. “The Loggerhead Kingbird in Florida: The Evidence Revisited.” North American Birds. GoogleScholar. Web. 28 September 2015.


Flicker. Yahoo. 2012. Web. 28 September 2015. <www.Flickr.com> creative commons.

Loggerhead on Thorns. (F. Veronesi)

Loggerhead on tree. (J. Oldenettel)

Loggerhead on nails. (H. Cortina)