I know spring has arrived when I spot the first scissor-tailed flycatcher. These gorgeous birds leave their winter home to summer here in North Texas. The birds perch patiently on fences and utility wires. Scissor-tailed flycatchers primarily eat insects, grasshoppers and crickets. The bird settles on a line until it spots a meal, then flies from its perch to catch dinner.
Scissor-tailed flycatchers’ habitat include wide-open country, like the cattle grazing land in North Texas. The birds are drawn to land dotted with patches of large shrubs or trees. Mesquite may be a bane to local ranchers and farmers, but the scissor-tailed flycatcher often use the mesquite, a shrub tree, for nesting according to a 1996 study by Kenneth Nolte and Timothy Fulbright.
The bird is attractive perched on a fence, but just wait until it flies. Scissor-tailed flycatchers have the most amazing tail feathers – with the tail often longer than the bird’s body. The male flycatcher performs elaborate aerial sky dances to attract a mate, flying up high and spiraling down. And the male will sometimes even add a somersault to his dance routine.
When driving past ranches and along the back roads, be on the lookout for the scissor-tailed flycatcher. If you’re lucky, you may even see a sky dance!
Territorial, a mated flycatcher pair shares the same area. The male helps feed the young, but it is the female who builds the nest. She will construct a cup shaped nest and often will include man-made materials like string and even the filters from cigarette butts. The female lays three to six eggs. It takes about 28 days for the eggs to hatch and birds to leave their nest. That may seem like a short period of time, but it is a relatively long time for this type of bird, making eggs and hatchlings vulnerable to predators.
- The birds live in Oklahoma and Texas March through November, and winter in Mexico or Central America.
- The scissor-tailed flycatcher is the state bird of Oklahoma.
- Poachers kill the birds for their tail feathers, used to make peyote fans.
- Their tail can be up to nine inches long (the bird overall is about 14 inches long).
- The practice of catching prey in flight is called hawking.
For more cool facts about scissor-tailed flycatchers, visit All About Birds, the online bird guide sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Also by Carolyn
Texas Backyard Naturalist – Butterfly Gardening
Texas Backyard Naturalist – Roadside Raptors