Thick-billed Kingbird
Half Moon Bay
San Mateo County, California
19 March 2000

Today Robbie Fischer and I decided to try for the Thick-billed Kingbird which had been present at the Ocean Colony Golf Course since December 1999. This is the same bird returning for its second winter. I saw it in January 1999 and have posted details here. It was rediscovered at this location on the Crystal Springs Christmas Bird Count by Gary Deghi. Arrangements for birders to visit this private gated community were made by Gary Deghi in conjunction with the president of the local homeowners association.

We arrived at the end of Bay Hill Road, parked and walked into the dump along the south side of Redondo Beach Road. Eventually we located the bird in a bare pine tree and watched it foraging at close range and in perfect light for about 20 minutes. It flew between the bare pine and the row of tall Eucalyptus along Redondo Beach Road just west of a house with a horse trailer.

The following description is based on notes taken while watching the bird:

Obvious kingbird, approximately twice the size of adjacent White-crowned Sparrow but smaller than nearby American Robin. We located it at first by its loud distinctive call, "prrreeeet" sharply rising.

Upperparts - back brown with slight olive cast, contrasting with a grayer nape. The wings had gray fringes to the tertials and the greater and median coverts were narrowly fringed with a light gray. No rusty edges anywhere. At least four darker brown primaries were visible beyond the folded tertials. These feathers were rather pointed, and showed faint grayish tips.

Tail - brown above and gray below. The tip of the tail was paler with a light gray cast. The central rectrices were slightly shorter than the outer, resulting in a distinct notch at the tip of the tail.

Head - dark crown and face through black eye. White chin and throat projecting under the dark mask to the side of the neck. The mustachial and malar area were entirely white, contrasting strongly with the black lower mandible. The massive bill was very thick and broad, black in color. The culmen was slightly arched. The forehead was freckled with pale gray. The head appeared relatively big and bulky with a squarish crown.

Underparts - upper chest gray, faintly washed with yellow, blending to bright yellow on the flanks, belly and undertail coverts. In flight the wing linings were brilliant lemon-yellow.

Legs and feet - blackish.


Judging from the criteria in Identification Guide to North American Birds by Peter Pyle, this bird is ASY (after second calendar year) because of the lack of rusty fringes to the rectrices and wing coverts which the bird showed last year when it was in its first year.

Joseph Morlan