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Great Kiskadee, Pitangus sulphuratus

The Great Kiskadee (Pitangus sulphuratus) is a species of passerine tyrant flycatcher found from southern Texas and Mexico south to Uruguay and central Argentina. They are also found on Trinidad. They have been introduced to Bermuda in 1957, and Tobago in 1970.

The adult Great Kiskadee is 8.7 inches long and weighs 2.2 ounces. It has a black head with a white eye stripe and concealed yellow crown stripe. The upperparts are brown. The wings and tail are brown and have reddish-brown fringes. The bill is short and black and very thick. The call is an energetic BEE-tee-WEE. Many local names for this bird are taken from its unique call. Many Spanish-speaking countries call this bird “˜bien-te-veo’ (“I see you well”). There are numerous other names given to this bird in many different languages. Most have similar meanings.

This bird hunts for insects from an open perch. It sallies out and catches them in flight. It will pounce on rodents and other small vertebrates. It also eats fruits, small fish and tadpoles. It is one of the few passerines that will fish for food. It will hunt alone or in pairs but will not feed in mixed-flock colonies very often. It is one of the most common birds found in urban Latin America because of its opportunistic feeding habits. It is easily noticed due to its flashy belly and shrill call.

The nest is built by both sexes in a tree or on a telephone pole. It is made up of a ball of sticks with an entrance on one side. The female lays two or three cream colored eggs that are lightly blotched with red-brown. The female incubates the eggs solely. The Great Kiskadee will attack larger birds if it feels threatened. It does this by flying or zooming down at them from mid-air. It uses harsh calls during these attacks that often alert all potential prey in the area. If a raptor is not very hungry, it will most likely leave the Kiskadee alone when excessively mobbed by them.

Predators (mostly mammalian) that are able to sneak up on nesting or sleeping Kiskadees make this species more vulnerable. Even small predators as small as the Common Marmoset will raid Great Kiskadee nests. The Great Kiskadee has a natural defense against predatory attacks. Its coloration will often discourage predators as some other similarly colored tyrant species that taste bad are avoided. Sometimes the colors not only tell the predator “I taste bad”, but also may be a warning of noxious chemicals contained in the birds’ meat. It is not known if this apparent evolution of the Greater Kiskadee’s coloration is a case of mimicry, and if so, whether the actual taste of the Great Kiskadee may encourage some predators to leave birds with certain colors alone.

Image Credit: Mike & Chris/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Great Kiskadee Pitangus sulphuratus


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