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Tropical Kingbird Tyrannus melancholicus

  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Tyrannidae
  • Polytypic: 3 subspecies
  • Authors: Alex. E. Jahn, Philip C. Stouffer, and R. Terry Chesser


Geographic Variation

In eastern Mexico, populations with longest wings and tails occur to the north; those with shortest wings and tails on Yucatán Peninsula. Variation in bill length parallels that in wing and tail length, except that individuals on Cozumel Island have very large bills relative to adjacent mainland populations. Ratio of bill length to wing length shows little geographic variation, except for Cozumel Island birds, which have high bill-to-wing ratios (Traylor 1979a).

Subspecies satrapa has a whiter throat and a paler, more yellowish chest, somewhat paler yellow underparts and a slightly paler gray crown than despotes and melancholicus, and is smaller than melancholicus (Cory and Hellmayr 1927, Stouffer and Chesser 1998). The color of the throat and chest of despotes is intermediate between those of satrapa and melancholicus. The underparts of despotes are yellower than those of satrapa, and despotes is smaller than melancholicus (Cory and Hellmayr 1927).

Kingbirds of the nominate subspecies breeding at south temperate latitudes of South America have longer wings than those of the same (nominate) subspecies breeding in the Amazon Basin (Jahn et al. 2010d).

Related Species

Molecular evidence suggests that Tyrannus dominicensis (Gray Kingbird) is the sister species to Tropical Kingbird (Mobley 2004). Subspecies taxonomy below follows Traylor 1979b and Phillips 1994:

satrapa Cabanis and Heine: southwestern United States south to northern South America (northern Colombia and most of northern Venezuela), including western and eastern Mexico, Central America, Netherlands Antilles, Trinidad, Tobago, and Grenada (Traylor 1979b).

despotes Lichtenstein. Northeastern Brazil from Amapá, Maranhão, and Ceará south to Bahia (Traylor 1979b).

melancholicus Vieillot. Most of tropical South America, excluding ranges of satrapa and despotes, south to Río Negro, Argentina, east of the Andes (Traylor 1979b), and south to central Peru west of the Andes (see Stouffer and Chesser 1998).

Recommended Citation

Jahn, A. E., P. C. Stouffer, and R. T. Chesser (2013). Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.