The Scissor-tailed flycatcher, belonging to genus Tyrannus, is native to North and Central America. All the members of this genus are collectively known as ‘kingbirds’. Kingbirds belong to the tyrant flycatcher family – i.e. Tyrannidae. Its common name comes from its long rectrices which have a little gap between them offering a scissors-like appearance. Scissor-tailed flycatcher is Oklahoma’s state bird. An engraved symbol of this bird-in-flight is in the Oklahoma Commemorative Quarter.
Species: T. forficatus
The scientific name for Scissor-tailed flycatcher is Tyrannus forficatus.
This bird has a slender body. Adult males are 38 centimeters in length. Females are a little shorter than the males. And, the female’s tail is thirty percent shorter compared to male. Their average wingspan is about 15 centimeters and their weight is between 42 to 45 grams. Their upper parts are pale gray and underparts are light gray. They have a pale gray head and dark gray wings. The axillars are red. Their undertail coverts and flanks are salmon-pink in color. They have an exceptionally long, forked tail that is black on the upper part and white on the under part. Juveniles tend to carry dull plumage and they have shorter tails.
The usually breed in savannas where there are few trees or shrubs. At times, few population can also be found in urban areas, pastures, and in agricultural lands. During spring and fall migration, they prefer open countrysides with grasslands or areas with low tree density. They spend the winter in urban or suburban areas, pastures, savannas, agricultural fields or at the edges of tropical jungles.
Tyrannus forficatus are native to North and Central America. Their breeding ranges include southern Nebraska, Kansas, southwestern Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas as well as western and eastern part of Louisiana. They spend the winter in Central America. During this time, they inhabit south Mexico to central Costa Rica. Scattered population can be found in Panama as well as in Florida’s southern tip.
Predators of Scissor-Tailed Flycatchers include hawks, ravens, crows, grackles, sparrows, blue jays and northern mockingbirds.
They defend their territory in an aggressive way. They fly with fast and strong wingbeats. Individuals can levitate itself by spreading its tail feathers and can make a sudden turn while in mid-air. They from big roosts during fall migration and spring. In some population in its geographical range, males continue to roost in groups throughout the breeding season. However, breeding individuals have a tendency to forage alone or in pairs. Males are the first to arrive at the nesting site, where they form and defend the territory. Once the pair is formed, both male and female go after intruders. Pairs are monogamous in a single breeding season, and they usually does not reunite in the following years.
Males’ courtship displays include taking a steep flight upwards and descending sharply, opening and closing its long tails, doing backwards somersaults while in the air, and often producing sharp calls. Nest is generally made in a tall shrub or a tree; and it tend to be 7 to 30 feet from the ground. Female builts the nest using weeds, twigs, grass and rootlets among others; and lined with fine plant materials. Female usually lay 3 to 5 (at times 6) eggs that are gray or brown in color. Incubation goes on for 14 to 18 days and it is mostly done by the female. Both male and female bring food for the hatchlings. The juveniles leave the nest in two or three weeks from hatching.
This bird primarily feed on insects, especially beetles, crickets and grasshoppers. At times, they also consume fruits, mainly during winter. They generally search for food between ground level to almost 32 feet off the ground, often snatching insects while in flight or taking food from the herbage. They often beat an insect against a tree branch or ground before eating them. Occasionally, they also feed on red mulberry or hackberry, or wild fruits.
The lifespan of this species is not known, but birds belonging to this genus may live 6 to 10 years.
Their primary calls of Tyrannus forficatus include buzzy rattles, chirps and squeaks. They also emit sharp notes going up in pitch and then sprinting up near the end of the song.
Loss of habitats and forest clearings are the biggest threats to its survival.
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has kept Scissor-tailed flycatcher in the ‘Least Concern’ category.
Its former binomial name was Muscivora forficata. Later it was shifted to genus Tyrannus. This genus gets its name as several of its members are highly aggressive, especially during breeding season. The birds of this genus have been noted to attack large birds like owls, hawks and crows.
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