Verification of Unusual Sight Record
For Utah

Rec. # 2016-16

Common name:

Tropical Kingbird

Scientific name: Tyrannus melancholicus
Date: 5/27/2016
Time: 12:30pm
Length of time observed: 5mins
Number: 1
Age: Adult
Sex: ?
Location: Utah Lake Parkway Trail (north shore)
County: Utah
Latilong: 40.3622447,-111.8832118
Elevation: 4,300'
Distance to bird: 150' initially then 50' when I approached
Optical equipment: 8x42 binoculars & 600mm DSLR lens
Weather: Sunny and clear
Light Conditions: Bright
Description:        Size of bird: Large Songbird
(Description:)       Basic Shape: Large Tyrant Flycatcher/Kingbird
(Description:)  Overall Pattern:  Gray, white, brown, and yellow
(Description:)            Bill Type: Large, heavy, and long
Field Marks and
Identifying Characteristics:
From a distance I noticed the striking green-yellow back and when I saw the bill it seemed extremely large. As I approached I could see the tail edges appeared to be dark, and the head was rather pale The white edgings on the primaries were very obvious, but the coverts seemed to be lacking. The tail appeared to be forked although it wasn't a huge fork, and the position of the tail might have contributed to the way it looked. The bird flipped around briefly showing a bright yellow belly before taking flight. In flight I could see there was no white in the tail whatsoever. The birds disappeared into the trees to the southwest and despite spending some time looking I was unable to relocate it.

The combination of features rules out the two smaller and more likely yellow-bellied kingbirds in Utah. The extremely large bill, pale head, and lack of white int he tail points to either Couch's or Tropical Kingbird. Given the size and shape of the bill it seems like Couch's can be ruled out.

The interesting thing about this bird might actually be the state of it's feathers and molt sequence. Given the wear, the lack of obvious scallops on the coverts doesn't seem problematic--there are numerous photos that appear to show wings in similar state.

I sent the photos to Peter Pyle to get his thoughts on how worn this bird is--and given the time of year and location what are the odds it might actually be an austral migrant instead of a northern breeder. I haven't heard back, but will share anything I hear.
(see photos)
Song or call & method of delivery: None. Unfortunately the bird didn't call, which would have clinched the ID
Behavior:  Sitting in a low shrub pile before flying off into the trees
Habitat: Open field on the north shore of Utah lake, near a large patch of trees.
Similar species and how
were they eliminated:
Western: Much smaller bill and white outer tail feathers

Cassin's: Smaller bill, dark chest, setting off white chin, and white tail tip

Couch's: Although quite similar the bills shape and size seem to rule Couch's out.
Previous experience with
this & similar species:
Have seen all on numerous occasions.
References consulted: Sibley Guide to Birds, and emails with several experts in Mexico and the US.
Description from: From memory
Observer: Tim Avery
Observer's address: Sandy, Utah
Observer's e-mail address: **
Other observers who independently identified this bird: None
Date prepared: 6/2/2018
Additional material:
Additional comments: Comments from Peter Pyle:

I agree it looks good for TRKI by bill size but it'd be nice to get an open-wing shot to confirm this by wing formula. It appears fine for a first-cycle (SY) bird based on what looks like a very worn inner primary (p4?) contrasting with slightly fresher outer primaries, resulting from an "eccentric" preformative molt. The two newer tertials (s8 and s7) and perhaps 1-2 inner greater coverts would be first-alternate feathers, along with the brighter gray crown and green back feathers. This state of wear is very typical of what SYs from northern populations (occidentalis) should look like and so I would consider it this over an austral migrant. If anyone gets an open-wing and/or open/tail shot I'd be curious to analyze it further for molt, age, and species.