Visiting Gray Kingbird

I was leaving Virgina Key Park when I saw two Gray Kingbirds perched on the power lines by the park’s entrance, not far from Rickenbacker Causeway. As I slowly pulled off the park road to get a closer look, the two Kingbirds were flying out trying to catch insects and returning to their perch. The Gray Kingbird summers in the most southern reaches of Florida, and is most often seen in the keys and Dry Tortugas.

John Audubon painted this bird in the Florida Keys in April or May of 1832.

They were aerial feeding–fluttering in air like a large hummingbird before returning to their perch–as I watched for about fifteen minutes, and I really wished I hadn’t left my camera home. I was just returning from riding the MTB trails on the Key. When I opened the door to the truck to get a better look, the Gray Kingbirds flew off, and strangely they soon returned when I got back inside and closed the door. I was thinking that they had gotten more used to cars passing into and from the park all day, than amateur birders trying to catch a closer glimpse.

This is my first time seeing a Gray Kingbird. It’s a Florida specialty, and has been regularly spotted in the summer months at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, down the causeway from Virginia Key. Their call is a loud rolling trill, pipiri pipiri, which is the reason behind many of its local names, like pitirre, in the Spanish-speaking Greater Antilles. They spend the summer in coastal Florida, and breed in Florida also, and winter in South America. They are a large flycatcher with gray upperparts, black mask, inconspicuous red crown patch, and mostly white underparts with pale yellow wash on belly and undertail coverts. From a distance, they look kind of like a larger Mockingbird (with a larger bill). The bill is long and black. Wings and notched tail are dark. Fluttering direct flight on shallow wing beats.

Gray Kingbirds wait on an exposed perch high in a tree, occasionally sallying out to feed on insects, their staple diet.

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