Scissortailed flycatcher

Tyrannus forficata

SUBFAMILY

Tyranninae

TAXONOMY

Muscicapa forficatus Gmelin, 1789, Mexico. Monotypic.

OTHER COMMON NAMES

French: Tyran a longe queue; German: Scherentyrann; Spanish: Pitirre Tijereta.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

11.5-15 in (29-38 cm); half of which is tail. Characterized by a long tail that opens and closes like a pair of scissors. Plumage includes pale gray upperparts, a pale gray head, white throat and underparts, pale salmon-pink sides and flanks, and dark brown wings with white edges. Bill, legs, and feet are black. Sexes are similar; juveniles are paler overall. Weight is 1.5 oz (42 g).

DISTRIBUTION

Oklahoma, Texas, limited surrounding areas in neighboring U.S. states, and far northern Mexico. Accidental across much of North America. Winters in southern Mexico and Central America.

HABITAT

Inhabits open land with scattered trees, prairies, scrublands, and farmlands.

BEHAVIOR

Lives singly or in pairs during the day, roosts at night in groups of up to 200. Capable of acrobatic flight. During courtship, the male makes a sudden plunge from a hundred feet (30 m) above ground, flies downward and diagonally back and forth singing with a cackle, and proceeds to an upward flight followed by several backward somersaults. This display persists through courtship and nesting until the eggs hatch. Main vocalization is a sharp "bik!" or "kew!"; other calls include a chattering "ka-quee-ka-quee!" and a repeated string of "ka-lup!".

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

From a main perch on branches, utility wires, and fences, watches for bees, wasps, and other flying insects, and then sallies forth, hovering momentarily over prey and dipping to catch it. Returns to same perch. Also hunts near the ground for crickets and grasshoppers.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Breeds monogamously once per year; female builds nest and incubates a clutch of three to six eggs for 14 to 17 days. Nest is cup-shaped and built on either deciduous or coniferous branches, on shrubs, and in human-made structures. Young are fed by both parents and remain in nest for 14 to 16 days.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Not threatened. Rarely hosts cowbird parasitism.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

None known, other than interest in viewing the spectacular flight display of the courting male. ♦

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