Photo Credit: Bill Horn
Photo Credit: Terry Hartley
Due South Photography
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Tyrannus forficatus
OTHER NAMES: Scissor-tail
STATUS: Breeder. Uncommon in fall, rare in winter and spring, and occasional in summer in Gulf Coast region. In other regions, rare in spring, summer, and fall. Low Conservation Concern.
DESCRIPTION: Scissor-tailed Flycatchers are large flycatchers that reach 14 inches long. Half of their total body length is a deeply forked black and white tail that is nearly unmistakable. Adult flycatchers are grayish white birds on their head, back, and breast, with salmon-pink sides and bellies. They have dark grey-black wings as well. Females tend to be shorter than males with shorter tails as well. Young flycatchers have smaller tails and are gray-white all over.
DISTRIBUTION: Scissor-tails breed from Eastern Colorado and Nebraska down south to Texas and Western Louisiana. Isolated breeding patches of these flycatchers have been found in Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee. Scissor-tails have been found breeding in Alabama along the Tennessee River in North Alabama and down in central and west-central Alabama. Scissor-tailed Flycatchers winter down in Central America from Mexico to Costa Rica and even into Panama and the southern portion of Florida.
HABITAT: Scissor-tailed Flycatchers are found in savannas and open country with numerous perches available such as along roadsides with fence posts and power lines suitable for perching. They will also be found in ranches with scattered trees and bushes for perches as well. They have adapted to humans and can be found in towns and agricultural fields too. During the winter these birds can be found in similar habitats as well as tropical forest edges.
FEEDING HABITS: Being a flycatcher, their major food source consists of insects, especially grasshoppers, crickets, and beetles. Like all other flycatchers, they most often will catch their food on the wing. They will forage from the ground to around 10 meters high with aerial hawking or even gleaning insects off branches and leaves while flying. Many of the insects they eat are harmful to agriculture, therefore many farmers may benefit from these birds being found around their fields. While insects make up the majority of their diet, these flycatchers do consume some small berries and seeds as well.
LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY: During the spring, scissor-tails have elaborate courtship rituals involving a performance with their scissor-like tails. During their elaborate flights, they will repeatedly call out ka-quee – ka-quee and occasionally snap their mandibles as well. During the early hours of morning they can be heard singing a series of pup-pup-perleep, pup-pup-perloo songs. These birds are monogamous and once they begin to pair off, nest building begins with the construction of a bulky stick nest. They line this nest with soft material. These birds have been found to use human products in their nest such as string, paper, carpet fuzz, and even cigarette filters. Nests are placed in small isolated trees or shrubs at a medium height. The female will then lay between 3-6 white eggs with brown spotting around the large end. There can be up to two broods per pair produced in a season. Eggs are incubated in the nest for about 14 days, with an additional 14 days required for the altricial nestlings to be able to fledge from the nest. Scissor-tailed Flycatchers are noisy and aggressive birds when defending their territory. They will occasionally be seen walking or climbing on the ground and in trees. To get up and fly they will fold their tail behind them and make rapid wing-beats. One interesting fact is that they are the state bird of Oklahoma.
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. 2010. All About Birds (online), Cornell Lab of Ornithology. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Scissor-tailed_Flycatcher/lifehistory.
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus) (online). Texas parks and Wildlife Department. http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/huntwild/wild/species/scissorfly/
Turcotte, W.H. and D.L. Watts. Birds of Mississippi. Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks, 1999: pgs. 306-307.
Williams, A. 2002. Tyrannus forficatus (online), Animal Diversity Web. http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Tyrannus_forficatus/
Author: Carrie Threadgill, wildlife biologist