Winter Kingbirds of NYC

Alex LamoreauxChase, Featured, Rarities1 Comment

Cassin's Kingbird at Floyd Bennet Field (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

New York’s 2nd Cassin’s Kingbird (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Remarkably both a Couch’s and Cassin’s Kingbird have taken up residence less than 15 miles apart from each other in New York City, and are so far successfully overwintering despite the strange, urban locations they are living in. The Couch’s is being seen around Washington Commons Park in the West Village and was first reported to birders on December 25th, but local, non-birders have mentioned that it may have been present for weeks already before that. The Cassin’s Kingbird was discovered near the community gardens at Floyd Bennett Field on November 15th by Kai Sheffield. The Couch’s was still present as of January 8th and the Cassin’s was last seen on January 5th.

Of the five vagrant North American kingbird species that have been found in the northeastern states, Couch’s and Cassin’s are the least common – the Couch’s is the 1st for New York, and the Cassin’s is the 2nd (the first was seen on October 13th, 2007). Overall, this is only the 3rd Couch’s Kingbird found in the northeast, with the previous reports from southern Massachusetts on September 7th, 2001 and another in north-central Maryland throughout November 2014. This Cassin’s Kingbird is only the 7th record for the northeast, and the southernmost record yet. In contrast there are 10+ records for Tropical Kingbird, 30+ records for Gray Kingbird, and hundreds of sightings of Western Kingbirds throughout the same region of the United States.

After failing to find it on the 29th, my friends and I were able to see the Couch’s Kingbird on December 30th a little after 2pm. The Couch’s spent almost the entire time we watched it perched on the top of a fire escape at 245 W 11th (quite a strange place to see any birdlife, much less a rare kingbird). The bird did make multiple sallying flights out for food, and we saw it cough up two pellets of reddish berries. We were also happy to hear it belt out it’s distinctive call multiple times. On a completely unrelated note, we also met comedian H. Jon Benjamin (voice of Archer) while we were watching the kingbird, and he seemed mildly interested in how and why the bird was hanging out in New York City.

Couch's Kingbird perched on a fire escape in the West Village of NYC (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Couch’s Kingbird perched on a fire escape in the West Village of NYC (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Couch's Kingbird perched on a fire escape in the West Village of NYC (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Couch’s Kingbird perched on a fire escape in the West Village of NYC (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

We also had incredible views of the Cassin’s earlier that same day. The Cassin’s Kingbird was actively foraging around the community gardens during our visit, and was also seen coughing up a pellet of reddish berries. We noted that the Cassin’s right wing was severely drooped, but that didn’t seem to be hindering the bird’s flight and it seemed otherwise healthy.

Cassin's Kingbird surveying it's territory at the community gardens at Floyd Bennett Field (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Cassin’s Kingbird surveying it’s territory at Floyd Bennett Field (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Cassin's Kingbird surveying it's territory at the community gardens at Floyd Bennett Field (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Cassin’s Kingbird coughing up a berry-filled pellet (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Cassin's Kingbird surveying it's territory at the community gardens at Floyd Bennett Field (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Cassin’s Kingbird at the community gardens at Floyd Bennett Field (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

  • Robert DeCandido

    fine research on the history of these two birds in the northeast; the berries that the Cassin’s is feeding upon appear to be Bittersweet (a non-native Asiatic vine); and both kingbirds are adult males – have a close look at the shape of the primaries. Thank You!