There is almost no mistaking the scissor-tailed flycatcher. The male’s nine-inch-long tail and the female’s slightly shorter one proclaims their identity whether seen in good light or in silhouette, flying or perched.
Except for the fork-tailed flycatcher of the American tropics (an extremely rare vagrant north of the Mexican border), no other North American bird has such a long, narrow tail compared with its body size. Pale gray is the scissortail’s predominant color, approaching white on the face and breast.
The wings are blackish, the tail black and white. Scarlet “armpits” are mostly concealed while the bird is perched, and a scarlet crown patch is almost always hidden. The flanks and belly are flushed salmon pink, which can vary in brightness from individual to individual.
The song is a low-pitched pidik pek pik pik pidEEK. Its common call is a low, flat pik, also pik-prrr or a higher, sharp kid.
The migratory scissor-tailed flycatcher breeds from extreme northeastern Mexico (generally within a short distance of the Texas border) north through southeastern New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, extreme southeastern Colorado, most of Kansas, western Missouri, Arkansas, and much of western and northern Louisiana.
Scissor-tailed flycatchers eat mostly insects. They will go on flights to snatch insects directly from the air, pick them off vegetation, or seize them from the ground. Sometimes they will eat them from the air or, if it is a bigger prey, they will return to a perch to beat it before eating. Especially on their wintering grounds, scissor tailed flycatchers will periodically eat fruit.
Over the past few decades the scissortail has expanded its range significantly. In Missouri the species has moved north to, and even beyond, the Missouri River. Its Arkansas range has moved northeastward across the state toward the Mississippi River. In Louisiana the scissortail has moved eastward from the Red River area across the northern part of the state nearly to the Mississippi.
Scissortails have successfully nested in western Tennessee several times since 1983. Look for scissortails in nearly any kind of open country with scattered trees, such as prairies, pastures, cropland, and even residential areas with large, open lots.
In spring the male performs an incredible courtship flight. Climbing 100 feet up, he dives, summersaulting and showing off his tail, then tumbles back to a perch. This never fails to impress the girls.