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Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Tyrannus forficatus
– Family
Authors: Regosin, Jonathan V.

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Adult male Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Ft. Worth, TX, 4 May.
Figure 1. Distribution of the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Perched conspicuously on a wire or fence, its long tail trailing, the elegant Scissor-tailed Flycatcher is a common sight throughout the south-central United States and northeastern Mexico during spring and summer. It favors open areas—savanna, grassland, shrubland, and agricultural and urban habitats—with sufficient perches for feeding and trees and shrubs for nesting. It forages by snatching insects from the air in graceful swoops, and by perch-to-ground flights. Apparently well suited to life in open grasslands, it eats mostly grasshoppers (Orthoptera) and beetles (Coleoptera), more so than other North American flycatchers.

Wintering primarily in southern Mexico and Central America (Fig. 1), this flycatcher is a relatively short-distance migrant with a long breeding season (April–August). Individuals defend breeding territories and typically forage alone or in pairs. The mating system of this species is best characterized as socially monogamous; the female constructs the nest and incubates alone, but the male helps feed the young. Nest sites are highly variable, but the cup-shaped nest is typically found in an isolated tree or shrub. Hot, sunny weather on the breeding grounds is occasionally broken by a severe thunderstorm or tornado, which can destroy large numbers of nests, significantly reducing reproductive output on a local scale in some years.

Although this species shares many similarities in behavior, vocalizations, and morphology with other kingbirds in the genus Tyrannus, only the Scissor-tailed and Fork-tailed (Tyrannus savana) flycatchers have dramatically elongated tail-feathers. While long tails are characteristic of both males and females, tail length is highly variable relative to other morphological traits; males, on average, have much longer tails than females.

Since the publication of Bent’s (1942) life history of the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, various studies in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas have focused on breeding biology and social organization (Fitch 1950, Regosin and Pruett-Jones 1995), communication (Smith 1966), foraging ecology (Foreman 1978), nest-site selection (Nolte and Fulbright 1996), and the comparative reproductive biology of this species and other kingbirds (Murphy 1988). To date, however, only one study has involved capturing and color-marking individuals (Regosin and Pruett-Jones 1995), and little research has been conducted on the wintering grounds of this species, or on its southern breeding grounds in Mexico. Many intriguing questions about the behavioral ecology, population ecology, communication system, and phylogeny of this species remain unanswered.