Giant Kingbird Tyrannus cubensis


Justification of Red List Category
This species has declined rapidly for largely unknown reasons, and is extinct on two of the three island groups that it formerly occupied. It is classified as Endangered because it now has a very small and severely fragmented population, which continues to decline significantly.

Population justification
The population is estimated to number 250-999 mature individuals based on an assessment of known records, descriptions of abundance and range size. This is consistent with recorded population density estimates for congeners or close relatives with a similar body size, and the fact that only a proportion of the estimated Extent of Occurrence is likely to be occupied. This estimate is equivalent to 375-1,499 individuals in total, rounded here to 350-1,500 individuals.

Trend justification
There are no recent trend data, but the species is suspected to be experiencing a moderately rapid and ongoing decline, owing to habitat loss. It has already been extirpated from parts of its former range.

Distribution and population

Tyrannus cubensis is endemic to Cuba where although always scarce it has become increasingly rare, for largely unknown reasons. It is now very locally distributed, and is most common (still few recent records) around Moa (Raffaele et al. 1998, Rompré et al. 2000). It is also known from the Sierra de Najasa (A. Mitchell in litt. 1998), with recent records from the mountains south-east of Moa (Rompré et al. 2000, Peña et al. 2017), near Trinidad in Sancti Spíritus province (G. M. Kirwan in litt. 1999) and near Caimito in La Habana province (Suárez 1998). The species has also recently been discovered to be more prevalent in the Cuchillas del Toa and Cuchillas de Baracoa ecozones in eastern Cuba than previously considered, suggesting its distribution is perhaps more widespread than first thought (Peña et al. 2017). There have been no recent records from historic localities in Pinar del Río province or the Zapata Swamp, where it considered extirpated (A. Mitchell in litt. 1998, Kirkconnell and Wiley 2016). There are old records from the south Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands (to UK), but surveys of the larger uninhabited islands in the Turks and Caicos in 1999 failed to find the species, and it is presumed locally extinct (G. Hilton in litt. 1999, Peña et al. 2017).


Although sometimes recorded in woodland, especially pine forest, and even in low elevation (c.400 m) cloud-forest on serpentine soils (Rompré et al. 2000), this species prefers the ecotone between forested and open areas, such as grassland and swamps, as well as riparian forest and open forest with tall trees in montane areas (Regalado 2002). Recent studies have shown Tyrannus cubensis to be relatively more abundant in secondary rainforest habitat for its critical nesting and food resources, especially in conjunction with forest ecotones or transition zones between preserved and open (deforested) areas (Peña et al. 2017). It feeds on large insects, lizards (especially Anolis spp) , other birds' fledglings and, during the dry season, significant quantities of fruit (Raffaele et al. 1998, Regalado 2002, Peña et al. 2017). Pair bonds are life-long and birds occupy large territories (mean size 27.5 ha) (Regalado 2002). The breeding season is March-June (A. Kirkconnell in litt. 1999), and the nest is usually sited on the horizontal branch of a large tree, usually Ceiba pentandra (Regalado 2002).


The precise reasons for this species's decline are unclear, but habitat loss, and especially loss of large trees suitable for nesting, from logging and agricultural conversion may at least a contributory factor. The species has however, been shown to strongly utilise forest gaps and disturbed edges, hence potentially offsetting some of the impacts of ongoing habitat loss (Peña et al. 2017). Forest loss within the species's range is currently estimated at ~3.5% per three generations (Tracewski et al. 2016).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
A project to discover more about its breeding ecology has been completed in the Sierra de Najasa and the results published (Regalado 2002).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Survey to define the species's precise distribution, especially around Moa and at historic locations in Pinar del Río province (including the rarely-visited Guanahacabibes Peninsula) (A. Mitchell in litt. 1998). Continue the project in the Sierra de Najasa and make further efforts to better define its ecological requirements (A. Mitchell in litt. 1998). Protect remaining habitat wherever it still survives (A. Mitchell in litt. 1998).


23 cm. Large two-toned kingbird with massive bill. Grey above, white below and blackish crown and nape. Orange coronal strip normally concealed. Similar spp. Loggerhead Kingbird T. caudifasciatus is smaller (especially bill), darker crown and white tail-band. Eastern Kingbird T. tyrannus is slighter with much smaller bill, paler crown and white tail-band. Voice Loud harsh chatter and four-syllable call.


Text account compilers
Everest, J.

Hilton, G., Isherwood, I., Kirkconnell, A., Kirwan, G.M., Mitchell, A., Pople, R., Sharpe, C.J. & Wege, D.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Species factsheet: Tyrannus cubensis. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 16/01/2021. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2021) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 16/01/2021.