Tyrannus forficatusscissor-tailed flycatcher

Geographic Range

Breeds in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and southern Nebraska, and occasionally eastern to western Louisiana and southwestern Missouri; migrates to and winters in Central America. The birds' wintering grounds can be anywhere within south Mexico through central Costa Rica and rarely into Panama as well as the southern tip of Florida.

(Peterson, 1963; Rand, 1971; Regosin, 1998)



Breeds mainly in savannas that contain a few trees, shrubs and or brushes. But may also be found in agricultural and urban areas as well as pastures in their breeding time.


Sits on fence posts or bushes in open country of Texas and Oklahoma; prefers open grassland and areas with scattered trees.


Present in savannas, pastures, agricultural lands, urban areas and at the periphery of tropical forests.

(Regosin, 1998; Rand, 1971)

  • Range elevation
    1000 to 2300 m
    3280.84 to 7545.93 ft
  • Average elevation
    1500 m
    4921.26 ft

Physical Description

Scissor-tailed flycatchers are slender, pale gray and black, with contrasting white tails and pink flanks; red patches are present just under the wings at the shoulders. The common name refers to the long rectrices that have a gap between them giving the appearance of scissors. Females are usually shorter than males and have shorter tails.

(Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, no date; Peterson, 1963; Rand, 1971)

  • Range mass
    36 to 43 g
    1.27 to 1.52 oz
  • Range length
    159 to 225 mm
    6.26 to 8.86 in
  • Range wingspan
    111 to 125 mm
    4.37 to 4.92 in


These birds are socially monogamous. (Regosin, 1998)

As soon as birds arrive back on their breeding grounds in the United States, breeding pairs are formed. The female primarily builds the nest but the male may help in shaping the nest with his bill and or feet. There can be four to five eggs per clutch in a nest and up to two broods are produced per season. Nests are usually built in small trees or shrubs. The eggs are incubated for 12-14 days and the hatchlings require another 14 days before they can leave the nest. (Rand, 1971; Sutton, 1977)

  • Breeding season
    April to August
  • Range eggs per season
    3 to 6
  • Average time to hatching
    14 days
  • Average fledging age
    14 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years

The male assists in feeding the young. The young are altricial and are born naked except for some white down. (Regosin, 1998)


They will occasionally walk, hop, or climb on the ground or on tree branches. In order for them to fly, they make rapid wing-beats with their long tail folded behind them. They will preen, head-scratch, stretch, bathe, sleep, roost, and sunbathe when it is appropriate for them to do so.

They aggressively defend their territories against intrusions by conspecifics.

(Regosin, 1998)

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Scissor-tailed flycatchers forage at heights ranging from the ground to 10 meters. They capture their prey by aerial hawking or gleaning during prey-specific flight forays. (Regosin, 1998)

They eat mostly grasshoppers and beetles but have been known to eat bees, wasps, spiders, crickets, some fruits and berries as well. (Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, no date)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Their diet can consist largely of agricultural pests and therefore they are helpers in keeping the ecosystems around crops in better order. The long tail feathers have been used make peyote fans. Otherwise, the human utility of the bird is limited to the beauty of the bird witnessed in their skydances.

(Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, no date)

  • Positive Impacts
  • controls pest population

Conservation Status

There is currently no conservation effort focused on this bird. Like other avian species, as long as it has adequate habitat - grasslands, open area, and agricultural lands - there is a chance it can survive with humans.

Other Comments

  1. Adopted state bird of Oklahoma in May 26, 1951 (Sutton, 1977).
  2. Previously known as Muscivora forficata (Rand, 1971; Peterson 1963).


Alesha Williams (author), University of Arizona, Jay Taylor (editor), University of Arizona.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

external fertilization

fertilization takes place outside the female's body

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


union of egg and spermatozoan


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.


uses sight to communicate


Oklahoma Department of, W. No date.. "Oklahoma's Tropical Ambassador -- The scissor-tailed flycatcher" (On-line). Accessed April 4, 2002 at http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/othrdata/okscisso/okscisso.htm.

Peterson, R. 1963. A Field Guide to the Birds: Giving field Marks of all Species Found East of the Rockies. Boston: Riverside Press Cambridge.

Rand, A. 1971. Birds of North America. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc..

Regosin, J. 1998. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. Birds of North America, 342: 1-20.

Sutton, G. 1977. Fifty Common Birds of Oklahoma and the Southern Great Plains. Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press.

Wood, D., G. Schnell. 1984. Distribution of Oklahoma Birds. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press.