The gray kingbird or grey kingbird, also known as pitirre, petchary, or white-breasted kingbird (Tyrannus dominicensis) is a passerine bird. It breeds from the extreme southeast of the United States, mainly in Florida, through Central America, from Cuba to Puerto Rico as well as eastward towards all across the Lesser West Indies, south to Venezuela, Trinidad, Tobago, the Guiana, and Colombia. Northern populations are migratory, wintering on the Caribbean coast of Central America and northern South America. Several vagrant populations are known to exist in the American Northeast.
The adult gray kingbird is an average-sized kingbird. It measures 23 cm (9.1 in) in length and weighs from 37 to 52 g (1.3 to 1.8 oz). The upperparts are gray, with brownish wings and tail, and the underparts are white with a gray tinge to the chest. The head has a concealed yellow crown stripe, and a dusky mask through the eyes. The dark bill is heavier than that of the related, slightly smaller, tropical kingbird. The sexes are similar, but young birds have rufous edges on the wing coverts, rump and tail.
It is found in increasing numbers in the state of Florida, and is more often found inland though it had been previously restricted to the coast. The species was first described on the island of Hispaniola, then called Santo Domingo, thus the dominicensis name.
A large, conspicuous, boisterous tyrannid, the Gray Kingbird is at home among the mangrove swamps of south Florida and the Caribbean region. Generally «tame» and tolerant of humans, it is familiar to those of the countryside of West Indian islands, where it is most abundant. It seems to have thrived as native forests have been destroyed, and its petulant voice and feisty disposition have given it almost folk-hero status. Local names derived onomatopoetically from its characteristic call differ from island to island, but rendered in the native tongue impart the same vehemence. The Gray Kingbird perches in the open, snapping up flying insects, thus paying rent for the territories it claims and for its harassment of family dogs. It often builds its crude twig nest near human habitations.
Colonizing mainland Florida from the West Indies, the Gray Kingbird remains restricted to coastal and Neotropical climates. In the West Indies, its habitats are open and dry, but generally associated with water, usually coastal. In the United States, it breeds along the Atlantic Coast as far north as Fort Caswell, North Carolina, and along the Gulf Coast to Biloxi, Mississippi. This species is transient along the Caribbean coast from the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico south to where it winters in the southern Caribbean and northern South America.
This tyrant flycatcher is found in tall trees and shrubs, including the edges of savanna and marshes. It makes a flimsy cup nest in a tree. The female incubates the typical clutch of two cream eggs, which are marked with reddish brown.
It feeds mainly on insects and in wintering territories it prefers fruits.
Nest near bodies of water and commonly in human dwellings. The nest is cup-shaped, built with twigs, vines and grasses and lined internally with grasses and rootlets. The female lays three or four brownish white or pinkish eggs with brown, mauve and gray spots. Their nests are parasitized by the parasitic Chamon but they commonly manage to dispose of the eggs of this species.
In Colombia, females in reproductive condition have been found in the month of March in the Cesar valley east of La Guajira: Also males in reproductive condition in the month of May in Santa Marta.
Gray kingbirds wait on an exposed perch high in a tree, occasionally sallying out to feed on insects, their staple diet.
Like other kingbirds, these birds aggressively defend their territory against intruders, including mammals and much larger birds such as caracaras, red-tailed hawks and broad-winged hawks.
Although this species is not generally considered to be facing immediate conservation threats, impacts of coastal development should be quantified. The Gray Kingbird may also serve as an excellent model of the effects of global climate change on terrestrial fauna. Increased sea levels would almost certainly impact its preferred nesting sites along sea coasts and estuaries, and an increase in the severity and frequency of storm activity would have unknown consequences on nesting success.
Phylogenetic analyzes indicate that the common sirirí (T. melancholicus) is its sister species, which are grouped in a clade together with T. albogularis, T. couchii and T. savana. The closest genera to Tyrannus are Empidonamus and Tyrannopsis.
In Barbados, the gray siriri was observed stealing food from the beaks of Quiscalus and Zenaida individuals, in a behavior known as kleptoparasitism (robbery parasitism)
The call is a loud rolling trill, pipiri pipiri, which is the reason behind many of its local names, like pestigre or pitirre, in the Spanish-speaking Greater Antilles, or petchary in some of the English-speaking zones.
Baltaz, M.E and Burhans, D.E. 1998. Rejection of Artificial Parasite Eggs by Gray Kingbirds in the Bahamas. The Condor Vol. 100, No. 3, pp. 566-568.
BirdLife International (2013) Species factsheet: Tyrannus dominicensis. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=4416 on 09/13/2013.
Brodkorb, P. 1950. Geographical Variation in the Gray Kingbird, Tyrannus dominicensis. The Auk Vol. 67, No. 3, pp. 333-344
Del-Hoyo, J., Elliot, A. and Christie D. A. 2004. Handbook of the Birds of the Wold. Vol 9. Cotingas to Pipits and Wagtails. Lynx editions. Barcelona. 863p.