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Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Tyrannus forficatus
(Order Passeriformes; Family Tyrannidae)

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (Photo by Bill Horn from

Diagnosis: The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher is typically 13 inches (33 cm) long.  Its most notable feature is an extremely long, forked tail that is black with white tips. It has a pearl gray upper with a nearly white head while its under tail region and wing linings are salmon pink with reddish axillaries. Males have longer tails than females.  Juveniles have shorter tails than adults with duller upper parts, browner wings, and no red axillaries.   

Natural History: Courting males perform a “sky dance” involving a 100-foot climb in the air followed by a series of V-shaped flights, ending with a zigzag plunge while somersaulting and calling.  These birds nest an open cup of plant stems and string, lined with finer plant materials. Nests are placed in small isolated trees or large shrubs.  Clutch size is typically 3–6 eggs that are white with dark markings around the large end.  Hatchlings are helpless and have sparse, white down.  Scissor-tailed flycatchers often raise two broods per summer.

Distribution: Scissor-tailed flycatchers breed from extreme northeastern Mexico near the Texas boarder north through southeastern New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, extreme southeastern Colorado, most of Kansas, western Missouri, Arkansas, and much of western and northern Louisiana.  Winters are spent in southern Mexico and Central America. (Distribution Map by Cornell Lab of Ornithology)


Habitat: These birds breed in open grasslands that have occasional trees and shrubs.  They are commonly seen on utility wires and are often found in towns and agricultural areas.  They spend the winter in similar habitat and sometimes at the edges of tropical forests.


Diet: Scissor-tailed flycatchers eat insects, especially grasshoppers, crickets, and beetles.  They capture most o their prey by aerial hawking or grabbing insects off vegetation.

Conservation Status: Least Concern

YouTube: Return of the Flycatchers:

Field Guide to the Birds of North America (3rd Edition ed.). (1987). National Geographic Society.

Birds of Oklahoma:

Bird Watcher's Digest:

Cornell Lab of Ornithology - All About Birds:

Image Credits:
Scissor-tailed flycatcher.  Photo by Bill Horn from

Distribution Map by Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Submitted by: Heather Stewart, July, 2011

Wichita State University
Generated on 2011. This website is continuously updated.
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