Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (Photo: Creative Commons)

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

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.

Listen For

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.

Find It

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.

Feeding Behavior

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.

Nesting Behavior

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.

Listen to this bird’s voice:

7 thoughts on “Scissor-tailed Flycatcher”

  1. If anyone ever reads this, I live near the Horicon Marsh, Wisconsin.
    I saw a nearly all white bird which looks like this one…..dive into the water of the Marsh and fly out….spectacular looking bird…just can’t ID him…..
    I Found a Picture of what they called a Small Tropic Bird….which looks like the one I saw….though doubt he made a mistake and came this far north.

    1. You might consider one of the small terns, such as Forster’s tern. These are slender white birds with long wings and tail.

    2. Hi Rick, I’m managing editor for Bird Watcher’s Digest and a longtime birder. Tropicbirds aren’t known to range far from warm coasts. Of course, there’s a first time for everything, but it is extremely unlikely that the bird you saw in Wisconsin was a tropicbird. The species above, scissor-tailed flycatcher, is much more likely. Although its normal range is Texas north through Kansas, the first one I saw was in Pennsylvania. This species is known to range widely, and it has turned up in southern Canada—even farther north than Horicon Marsh! Did the bird you saw have a long tail like this one? My only problem with this hypothesis is that flycatchers don’t dive into water. They might dive close to water to pick up a low-flying insect, such as a dragonfly, but “into” water, no. Do you think you might have seen an osprey? They can look very white, are found in Wisconsin, and often dive into water to catch fish. Here’s a link:
      While diving, an osprey would look more sleek, but they don’t have a long tail like a scissor-tailed flycatcher or a tropic bird. Still, osprey is my best guess.

      1. Yes, though what I saw was a pretty solid white…side view…so not a good view of the wing front.
        THIS BIRD was almost shaped like a bullet when He went into the water….didn’t go deeply, though….was up and off the water in a second.
        I’ll take a look at the osprey……
        this bird was about the size of a Gull but a little longer and a little thinner….the tail was about as long as the bird’s body.
        Quite an elegant dive, which is why I am exerting this effort.
        it was as remarkable
        Last year I had 4 White Pelicans fly in formation 6 feet or so over my head and my dog.
        I just gasped.
        Felt the air flow of each flap of the wing…..
        THANK YOU !

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