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Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Tyrannus forficatus ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: TYRANNIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

An elegant gray and salmon-pink flycatcher festooned with an absurdly long tail, the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher is the bird to look for on fence wires in the south-central United States. They typically perch in the open, where their long, forked tails make an unmistakable silhouette. The tail proves useful as they expertly catch insects on the wing with sharp midair twists and turns. In late summer and early fall, scissor-tails gather in large, bickering flocks to migrate to Mexico and Central America.

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Keys to identification Help

Flycatchers
Flycatchers
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Scissor-tailed Flycatchers are slender, stout-billed kingbirds with very long, stiff, deeply forked tails. Males have longer tail feathers than females and immatures.

  • Color Pattern

    These are pale gray birds with blackish wings and black tails with white edges. Adults have salmon-pink flanks that extend to underwing patches that are very conspicuous in flight. Males are more intensely colored than females.

  • Behavior

    Scissor-tailed Flycatchers perch conspicuously on utility lines, treetops, and fence lines to watch for insect prey and defend their territories from interlopers. They are agile in the air, spreading their long tails wide to make abrupt turns and stalls. They are highly territorial, and will chase other birds out of their territories accompanied by loud, squeaky, bubbling calls.

  • Habitat

    Scissor-tailed Flycatchers breed in open habitats in the southern Great Plains and south Texas, especially around scattered trees or utility lines. They tolerate human presence well and frequently breed in towns.

Range Map Help

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher Range Map
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Field MarksHelp

  • Adult male

    Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

    Adult male
    • Medium-sized, pale gray flycatcher
    • Unmistakable elongated, deeply-forked tail (longer on males)
    • Orange/pink wash on belly and flanks
    • © Kaustubh Deshpande , Dallas, Texas, May 2009
  • Adult

    Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

    Adult
    • Slender, pale gray flycatcher
    • Very long, deeply-forked, black and white tail
    • Pale gray, almost white on head and back
    • Darker wings
    • © Carlos Escamilla, Del Mar, Laredo, Texas, April 2011
  • Adult male

    Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

    Adult male
    • Unmistakable in flight with greatly elongated, forked tail
    • Bright orange-red under-wings with paler orange wash on flanks
    • Pale, silvery gray head and breast
    • Short, flattened black bill
    • © Tripp Davenport, Bexar County, Texas, May 2009
  • Adult male

    Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

    Adult male
    • Unmistakable in flight with dramatically elongated, deeply forked tail
    • Bright, silvery gray head
    • Dark wings contrast with paler gray back
    • © John Ritchey, Oklahoma, April 2012
  • Adult

    Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

    Adult
    • Medium-sized, pale gray flycatcher
    • Slender-bodied
    • Orange/pink wash on lower belly and flanks
    • Darker wings contrast with paler body
    • © A wing and a prayer, Cave Springs, Arkansas, May 2010
  • Juveniles

    Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

    Juveniles
    • Stockier and shorter-tailed than adult
    • Buffy orange wash on belly
    • Pale whitish gray head and breast
    • Darker olive/gray on back and wings
    • © KansasBirds, Miami County, Kansas, June 2012
  • Adult

    Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

    Adult
    • Often seen perched on wires or fence posts
    • Colored wash on flanks and belly ranges from peach to bright rosy red
    • Dramatically elongated tail distinctive
    • Pale gray head
    • © Reddirtpics, Norman, Oklahoma, April 2012

Similar Species

  • Adult

    Western Kingbird

    Adult
    • Stockier than Scissor-tailer Flycatcher with much shorter, squared tail
    • Darker gray head with contrasting whitish throat
    • Bright lemon yellow wash on lower breast and belly
    • White edges on dark outer tail feathers
    • © Bob Gunderson, San Jose, California, May 2012
  • Adult

    Say's Phoebe

    Adult
    • Smaller and more compact than Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
    • Much shorter tail
    • Darker gray head and back
    • © Ganesh Jayaraman, Coyote Valley, California, January 2010

Similar Species

The Fork-tailed Flycatcher of Mexico and Central America is only rarely seen in the United States. It is similarly shaped but very differently colored: dark gray to black above with a black cap and white, not pink, underparts. Young Scissor-tailed Flycatchers have shorter tails and can look like kingbirds. Western Kingbirds are bright yellow on the chest and belly. Eastern Kingbirds are much darker on the head, back, and wings.

Backyard Tips

Scissor-tailed Flycatchers occasionally supplement their insect diet by visiting berry bushes such as mulberry or hackberry.

Find This Bird

Within their range, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers are one of the most conspicuous roadside birds—easily visible at 65 miles per hour if you keep your eyes peeled along fencerows from the passenger side of the car. Their pale color can make them hard to spot against the sky, but their long tails are eye-catching both when at rest and in flight. During migration in fall and early spring you may see them in very large, noisy flocks. They leave the U.S. in winter, so look for them in spring and summer.

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