It was a top-down kind of day on this unseasonably warm November Saturday as we hopped into Mike’s convertible. Today, we had one goal in mind: Tropical Kingbird!
Tropical Kingbirds are part of the flycatcher family, and look almost exactly like another species, Couch’s Kingbird. These birds are usually distinguished by vocalization. Tropical Kingbirds are primarily found year-round in South and Central America, and they can occur seasonally in Arizona and California, too. Today’s journey didn’t require a plane ticket though as this bird was seen in the town of Peach Bottom in Lancaster County, PA!
Our hour-long car ride led us to a narrow farm field along some power lines. The bird had been found earlier in the week by others and was observed again this morning. We pulled up to groups of cars and birders on the roadside, scanning the power lines and fields with binoculars and scopes. No bird in sight just yet…
We waited only a few short minutes until a young man named Carl and his father spotted the bird on the power lines down the hill. This bird boasted a stunning yellow wash on the belly and put on quite a show for us onlookers as it did it’s classic fly-catching behavior. It would leave its perch to catch an insect and return to nearly the same spot, diving and fluttering to and from.
The bird was very actively feeding between the power lines, the forest edge, and even in someone’s backyard. The homeowners were shocked to hear about such a rare bird showing up so far from home, that many of us had driven as far as we did to see it, and that the bird was even in their yard!
American Kestrel (right) and Tropical Kingbird (left) for comparison of size and shape.
This bird represents the second time it has ever been seen in the state of Pennsyvlania! Prior to this, the first record of this bird was at Bartram’s Gardens in Philadelphia in June of 2013. Why is this bird here? It’s a question that can be asked about most birds that show up outside of their usual range. I think the geography of where these birds might play a part in this Kingbird’s occurrence in Pennsylvania as this bird in Peach Bottom was found right next to the Susquehanna River and the one in Philadelphia was found along the Schuylkill River. Perhaps these birds followed the waterways as they were lost on their migratory paths and stumbled upon a good rest stop. Who knows for sure, but this species was a life bird for me, meaning this was the first time I’ve seen it in my whole life. The longer one birds, the harder it can be to find new birds, making this a real highlight of birding in 2016!
The map above shows the only two reports of Tropical Kingbird in Pennsylvania. Notice that both occur along rivers! (www.ebird.org)