- Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution
- Breeding Habitat
- Population Abundance
- Literature Cited
A regular breeding species and migrant. The Eastern Kingbird was a common species during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA).
The Eastern Kingbird can be found throughout much of Canada, from the southern reaches of the Yukon and the Northwest Territories east across the boreal forest region to Newfoundland and southern Quebec. In the United States it is absent only from the southwestern states and along the Pacific Coast. Within its breeding range, populations reach their highest breeding densities within the Prairie Pothole Region and Central Mixed Grass Prairie (Figure 1).
Assigned a Continental Concern Score of 11/20 by Partners in Flight.
A long-distance, Neotropical migrant that winters in South America.
An aerial insectivore that also gleans insects from foliage and dives after prey items on the ground. Also consumes some fruit and seeds during the breeding season.
An open-cup nest usually placed within the upper third of a tree. Bits of trash, such as twine or plastic, may appear in the nest.
As early as the late 1800s, Hatch (1892) recognized the Eastern Kingbird, a prominent bird of the open country, as a species he was “sure of seeing” wherever he travelled in the state. Little had changed 40 years later, when Roberts (1932) described it as an abundant breeding species throughout Minnesota. Dressed in its rather formal black and white attire, the Eastern Kingbird is easy to spot wherever it is present. Roberts wrote:
The Kingbird is such an abundant, noisy, and conspicuous fellow that it is probably one of the best-known birds in the state. It is everywhere from early May until September, in forests, in orchards, on the prairies, and in the outskirts of towns and cities, and is one of the most frequent “post and wire” birds by the roadside.
At the time of writing, Roberts had collected breeding evidence (confirmed and inferred nesting reports) from 14 counties, including Houston County in the southeast, Jackson County in the southwest, Marshall and Polk Counties in the northwest, and Lake County in the northeast.
In 1968 and 1971 Breckenridge published two small articles commenting on the declining numbers of both the Eastern and Western Kingbirds (Breckenridge 1968, 1971). Using data he and Roberts collected in 1926 and comparing that to systematic surveys conducted in 1971, he found the Eastern Kingbird had been nearly 12 times more abundant in 1926; the Western Kingbird experienced similar declines. Breckenridge speculated that these aerial insectivores were impacted by the intensive use of pesticides in the agricultural regions of the state.
Although the Eastern Kingbird’s numbers were clearly declining, the species remained widely distributed throughout the state. When Green and Janssen (1975) and later Janssen (1987) wrote their updated accounts of the species’ distribution, both accounts noted that the bird was a statewide resident and could be found breeding in all regions of the state. Janssen included a statewide distribution map that identified 42 counties where nesting had been documented since 1970. More than a decade later, Hertzel and Janssen (1998) added 11 more counties to the list. Finally, years of extensive field work conducted by the Minnesota Biological Survey beginning in the late 1980s tallied more than one thousand Eastern Kingbird breeding season locations in all corners of the state (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 2016).
During the course of the MNBBA, observers reported a total of 3,672 Eastern Kingbird records from 47.5% (2,274/4,791) of the surveyed atlas blocks and from 60.8% (1,422/2,337) of the priority blocks. Breeding evidence was reported in a total of 352 blocks (Figures 2 and 3; Table 1). The birds were observed in all of Minnesota’s 87 counties and were confirmed breeding in 75 counties (one block with confirmed breeding evidence straddled 2 counties, Renville and Redwood). A total of 28 of these counties were additions to the list published by Hertzel and Janssen in 1998. Although reports came from all regions of the state, the species was least abundant in northeastern Minnesota, east of St. Louis County, and in the very northern regions of north-central Minnesota.
MNBBA records were combined with data on climate, habitat availability and landscape context to predict the species’ statewide distribution. The resulting model predicted the species is least abundant in the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province, especially in the Arrowhead Region, and in metropolitan regions such as the Twin Cities and Rochester (Figure 4). Predicted breeding densities throughout western and southern Minnesota are quite uniform with no areas of significantly higher abundance.
Since Hatch (1892) first wrote his account of the Eastern Kingbird nearly 150 years ago, the species’ widespread distribution throughout the state has remained unchanged, despite an apparent decline in overall abundance. The same is true across North America. Although the loss of extensive forest habitat and the planting of trees in the Great Plains likely provided some benefits to the species, no significant changes to its distribution have been noted, at least in the past 100 years (Murphy 1996).
*Note that the definition of confirmed nesting of a species is different for Breeding Bird Atlas projects, including the definition used by the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas, compared with a more restrictive definition used by the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union. For details see the Data Methods Section.