Oklahoma's state bird: the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. Photo: Vic Prislipsky/Audubon Photography Awards

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Tyrannus forficatus

On the southern Great Plains, this beautiful bird is common in summer, often resting on roadside fences and wires. Seen perched at a distance it might suggest a slim, long-tailed Mockingbird -- until it flies, showing off the salmon-pink under the wings, its long tail streamers flaring wide as it maneuvers in mid-air to catch an insect. Although it looks unique, the Scissor-tail is closely related to the kingbirds, and like them it will fearlessly attack larger birds that come near its nest.
Conservation status Probably increased in some areas as planting of shelterbelt trees provided more nesting sites. Has declined in some areas in recent decades.
Family Tyrant Flycatchers
Habitat Semi-open country, ranches, farms, roadsides. Favors grassland or farmland with scattered trees or isolated groves. May breed in open grassland with no trees in some areas, where utility poles provide artificial nest sites. Winters in open or semi-open country in the tropics.
On the southern Great Plains, this beautiful bird is common in summer, often resting on roadside fences and wires. Seen perched at a distance it might suggest a slim, long-tailed Mockingbird -- until it flies, showing off the salmon-pink under the wings, its long tail streamers flaring wide as it maneuvers in mid-air to catch an insect. Although it looks unique, the Scissor-tail is closely related to the kingbirds, and like them it will fearlessly attack larger birds that come near its nest.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male
  • adult
  • adult male
  • adult male
Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly by watching from a perch, flying out to catch insects, then returning to perch to eat them. May take insects in mid-air, or may pick them from foliage or from ground while hovering; very agile and maneuverable in flight.


Eggs

3-5, rarely 6. Whitish, blotched with brown and gray. Incubation is by female, about 14-17 days. Young: Both parents bring food to nestlings. Young leave the nest about 14-16 days after hatching.


Young

Both parents bring food to nestlings. Young leave the nest about 14-16 days after hatching.

Diet

Insects. Feeds mostly on insects, including many grasshoppers, also beetles, wasps, bees, true bugs, flies, caterpillars, moths, and others. Also eats some spiders. Small numbers of berries and wild fruits are eaten occasionally.


Nesting

Male has spectacular courtship display, sharply rising and descending in flight, its long tail streamers opening and closing, while the bird gives sharp calls. May perform backwards somersaults in the air. Nest site is usually in a tree or tall shrub, placed on a horizontal limb or less often in a vertical fork, usually 7-30' above the ground. Often also places nest where wires attach to utility poles, or on other artificial sites such as towers or bridge supports. Nest (built by female) is a ragged open cup of twigs, weeds, rootlets, and grass, lined with finer materials such as hair and plant down.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Migration

On the breeding grounds, often arrives early (by early April) and stays late (to October, even a few through November). Strays wander to either coast, and small numbers winter regularly in southern Florida.

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Migration

On the breeding grounds, often arrives early (by early April) and stays late (to October, even a few through November). Strays wander to either coast, and small numbers winter regularly in southern Florida.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A harsh kee-kee-kee-kee. Also chattering notes like those of Eastern Kingbird.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.