Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher, Oklahoma’s Long-tailed State Bird

Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher,

Oklahoma’s Long-tailed State Bird

Dr. James J. S. Johnson



Photo credit: Oklahoma Dep’t of Wildlife Conservation

He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.    (Psalm 91:4)

Feathers provide a soft aerodynamic covering for birds, and parent birds are known to use their feather-clad wings to protect their young –  so much so that God Himself compared His own protectiveness to the protective wings of parent birds (see also Matthew 23:37).  What wonderfully lightweight yet sturdy  structures feathers are – it is amazing how God cleverly imagined and invented such airworthy body parts!  One bird with unusually long tail feathers is the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, several of which my wife and I saw throughout the day last Saturday, while visiting part of Oklahoma.

Specifically, last Saturday (June 16th AD2018) my wife and I undertook a day trip to Frederick, Oklahoma  –  a small town not far from Wichita Falls, Texas (yet obviously north of the Red River, on the Oklahoma side) –  to visit some American West historical sites and the Tillman County Historical Society’s museum, a/k/a Frederick’s “Pioneer Heritage Townsite Museum”, located next to the Tillman County Courthouse — which courthouse’s lawn features a statue of two of Frederick’s most courageous young adventurers, Louis and Temple Abernathy, sons of U.S. Marshal “Catch-’em-alive” Jack Abernathy.

[ See and and .]

What amazing epic adventures occurred a little more than a century ago, in that area – and are now are chronicled there, for us now to appreciate!


SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER perching on barbed wire

                                     Photo credit: / Cornell University

However, that report must appear elsewhere (D.v.) because this is a birdwatching blogsite, so here I will report on the most remarkable of the birds we observed that day, the SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER, which happens to be the official state bird of Oklahoma. Roger Tory Peterson describes this fine-feathered foot-long flycatcher as follows:

“A beautiful bird, pale pearly gray, with an extremely long, scissorlike tail that is usually folded. Sides and wing linings salmon-pink.  Young birds with shorter tails may suggest Western Kingbird.  Hybrids [with other tyrant flycatchers] are known.”

[Quoting Roger Tory Peterson, A FIELD GUIDE TO WESTERN BIRDS (Houghton Mifflin / Peterson Field Guides series, 3rd edition 1990), page 230.]



Photo credit: Dick Daniels /

Scissortails breed mostly in Oklahoma and Texas (and Kansas), migrating to Mexico and beyond (to Panama) for the winter. Scissortails (like many other kingbirds) prefer open prairies and semi-open areas, such as thinly wooded farms, ranches, towns, and roadsides – often perching upon ranchland barbed wires, tree branches, or atop bushy shrubs, as they monitor their surroundings for flies to snatch.  As their name suggests, scissortail flycatchers are “hawking” aerial predators of flies and other flying insects (such as dragonflies, wasps, robber flies, bees, etc.), although they also enjoy eating earthbound insects (like beetles and grasshoppers), as well as winter berries.

So here is my limerick, to memorialize the time birdwatching in and around Frederick, Oklahoma, historic home of the adventurous Abernathy family:


Perching and alert, scissortail

Pearly grey, its plumage is pale;

Hawking flies in midflight,

Eating bugs with delight

Long-tailed bird that Okies do hail!


Photo credit: Birds of North America / Joe Overcash




Say’s Phoebe and Nest

On our vacation, we spent the night in El Centro, California. In the morning, while loading the luggage back in the car, I noticed a bird flying in and out of a corner. Investigating, here is what I found:

Say's Phoebe nestling at El Centro Ca by Lee

Say’s Phoebe nestling at El Centro Ca by Lee

Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O LORD of hosts, my King, and my God. (Psalms 84:3 KJV)

The nest with a young bird in it was patiently waiting for mom/pop to show up with some more food. Sure enough, the parent came and went but didn’t stay long enough for me to get a photo. Finally, they landed on a spot long enough to get a few photos. (He/she was in the direct sun and not the best photo.)

Say's Phoebe (Sayornis saya) at El Centro Ca by Lee

Say’s Phoebe (Sayornis saya) at El Centro Ca by Lee

Yeah! A new Life Bird for my list. This is a Say’s Phobe. Been reading up on this beautiful creation from the Creator. The Say’s phoebe (Sayornis saya) is a passerine bird in the Tyrannidae – Tyrant Flycatchers Family. A common bird in the western United States. It prefers dry, desolate areas. This bird was named for Thomas Say, the American naturalist.

Here is a better photo from Flickr by Dawn Ellner:

Say's Phoebe (Sayornis saya) ©©Flickr Dawn Ellner

Say’s Phoebe (Sayornis saya) ©©Flickr Dawn Ellner

The adult Say’s phoebe is a drab, chunky bird. It is gray-brown above with a black tail and buffy cinnamon below, becoming more orange around the vent. The tail is long and the primaries end just past the rump on resting birds. The wings seem pale in flight and resemble a female mountain bluebird. The juvenile is similar to adult, but has buffy orange to whitish wingbars and a yellow gape. Adult birds are 7.5 in (19 cm) long. They have a 13 in (33 cm) wingspan and they weigh 0.75 oz (21 g). Their diet is almost exclusively insects which they dart out to capture. Sometimes they hover over grass to catch the insects.

Nest – Adherent also under eaves, bridges, in wells; of grass, forbs, moss, plant fibers, lined with fine materials, especially hair. Female believed to build nest. The Eggs – White, mostly unmarked, some (last laid) with small red spots. 0.8″ (19 mm). The female incubates for 12-14 days. Development is altricial (immobile, downless, eyes closed, fed). Young leave the nest after 14-16 days. Both sexes tend young. “Say’s Phoebe is common around people, often nesting on buildings.” (All About Birds)

(Info from Wikipedia, internet and Thayer’s Birding Software)

More about that nest in the next post. Photos can be clicked on to enlarge them.

(Update: Orni-Theology and The Nest)

Good News

Need Help With Some Identifications

Western Kingbird Maybe - - California

Western Kingbird Maybe – California

Now that I am trying to put names with the photos of some of the avian creations from our vacation, I have some that I have no idea what they are. Help needed.

Some I have narrowed down to one or two (or three or four) possibilities. Since we live in Florida and these were taken out west, I am not certain of their IDs.

If you have seen these, could you leave me a comment. It sure would help.

Western Kingbird Maybe - California

Western Kingbird Maybe – California

Is this a Western Kingbird or one of the Flycatchers. Some of them are so similar it is hard to tell them apart.

Here’s another:

Costa's Hummingbird - I think - California

Costa’s Hummingbird – I think – California

Pretty certain of this, but not sure. Been checking on-line and in the books.

Here are the last two, for now. Still going through the photos.

Verdin Maybe - California

Verdin – Maybe – California

Same bird:

Verdin Maybe - California

Verdin – Maybe – California

The last one.

Dusky-capped Flycatcher - Maybe - California Cropped

Dusky-capped Flycatcher – Maybe – California Cropped

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: (Matthew 7:7 KJV)

Thanks again for any help with the IDs.


Birds Vol 1 #5 – The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher Birds Illustrated by Color Photography, 1897

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher Birds Illustrated by Color Photography, 1897

Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited

Vol 1. May, 1897 No. 5



F for Birds Illustrated by Color Photography

LYCATCHERS are all interesting, and many of them are beautiful, but the Scissor-tailed species of Texas is especially attractive. They are also known as the Swallow-tailed Flycatcher, and more frequently as the “Texan Bird of Paradise.” It is a common summer resident throughout the greater portion of that state and the Indian Territory, and its breeding range extends northward into Southern Kansas. Occasionally it is found in southwestern Missouri, western Arkansas, and Illinois. It is accidental in the New England states, the Northwest Territory, and Canada. It arrives about the middle of March and returns to its winter home in Central America in October. Some of the birds remain in the vicinity of Galveston throughout the year, moving about in small flocks.

There is no denying that the gracefulness of the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher should well entitle him to the admiration of bird-lovers, and he is certain to be noticed wherever he goes. The long outer tail feathers he can open and close at will. His appearance is most pleasing to the eye when fluttering slowly from tree to tree on the rather open prairie, uttering his twittering notes, “Spee-spee.” When chasing each other in play or anger these birds have a harsh note like “Thish-thish,” not altogether agreeable. Extensive timber land is shunned by this Flycatcher, as it prefers more open country, though it is often seen in the edges of woods. It is not often seen on the ground, where its movements are rather awkward. Its amiability and social disposition are observed in the fact that several pairs will breed close to each other in perfect harmony. Birds smaller than itself are rarely molested by it, but it boldly attacks birds of prey. It is a restless bird, constantly on the lookout for passing insects, nearly all of which are caught on the wing and carried to a perch to be eaten. It eats moths, butterflies, beetles, grasshoppers, locusts, cotton worms, and, to some extent, berries. Its usefulness cannot be doubted. According to Major Bendire, these charming creatures seem to be steadily increasing in numbers, being far more common in many parts of Texas, where they are a matter of pride with the people, than they were twenty years ago.

The Scissor-tails begin housekeeping some time after their arrival from Central America, courting and love making occupying much time before the nest is built. They are not hard to please in the selection of a suitable nesting place, almost any tree standing alone being selected rather than a secluded situation. The nest is bulky, commonly resting on an exposed limb, and is made of any material that may be at hand. They nest in oaks, mesquite, honey locust, mulberry, pecan, and magnolia trees, as well as in small thorny shrubs, from five to forty feet from the ground. Rarely molested they become quite tame. Two broods are often raised. The eggs are usually five. They are hatched by the female in twelve days, while the male protects the nest from suspicious intruders. The young are fed entirely on insects and are able to leave the nest in two weeks. The eggs are clear white, with markings of brown, purple, and lavender spots and blotches.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus) by Daves BirdingPix

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus) by Daves BirdingPix

Lee’s Addition:

I know all the birds of the mountains, And the wild beasts of the field are Mine. (Psalms 50:11 NKJV)

The Lord has given us another beautiful bird to enjoy. The Scissor-tailed Flycatchers are in the Tyrant Flycatchers – Tyrannidae Family. Adult birds have pale gray heads and upper parts, light underparts, salmon-pink flanks, and dark gray wings. Their extremely long, forked tails, which are black on top and white on the underside, are characteristic and unmistakable. At maturity, the bird may be up to 14.5 inches (37 cm) in length. Immature birds are duller in color and have shorter tails. A lot of these birds have been reported to be more than 40 cm.

They build a cup nest in isolated trees or shrubs, sometimes using artificial sites such as telephone poles near towns. The male performs a spectacular aerial display during courtship with his long tail forks streaming out behind him. Both parents feed the young. Like other kingbirds, they are very aggressive in defending their nest. Clutches contain three to six eggs.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus) ©TexasEagle

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus) ©TexasEagle

In the summer, Scissor-tailed flycatchers feed mainly on insects (grasshoppers, robber-flies, and dragonflies), which they may catch by waiting on a perch and then flying out to catch them in flight (hawking). For additional food in the winter they will also eat some berries.

Since the article was written they are increased their range. Their breeding habitat is open shrubby country with scattered trees in the south-central states of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas; western portions of Louisiana, Arkansas, and Missouri; far eastern New Mexico; and northeastern Mexico. Reported sightings record occasional stray visitors as far north as southern Canada and as far east as Florida and Georgia. They migrate through the Gulf states of Mexico to their winter non-breeding range, from southern Mexico to Panama. Pre-migratory roosts and flocks flying south may contain as many as 1,000 birds.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - Oklahoma-quarter

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher – Oklahoma-quarter

The scissor-tailed flycatcher is the state bird of Oklahoma, and is displayed in flight with tail feathers spread on the reverse of the Oklahoma Commemorative Quarter.

There are actually four Scissor-tailed named birds in the world:

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Scissor-tailed Hummingbird
Scissor-tailed Kite
Scissor-tailed Nightjar

Birds Illustrated by Color Photograhy Vol 1 May, 1897 No 5 - Cover

Birds Illustrated by Color Photograhy Vol 1 May, 1897 No 5 – Cover

Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited – Introduction

The above article is the first article in the monthly serial that was started in January 1897 “designed to promote Knowledge of Bird-Live.” These include Color Photography, as they call them, today they are drawings. There are at least three Volumes that have been digitized by Project Gutenberg.

To see the whole series of – Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited


(Information from Wikipedia and other internet sources)

Next Article – The Prothonotary Yellow Warblers

Previous Article – The Black-Capped Chickadee

Gospel Message


Birds of Oklahoma Plus

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher – All About Birds

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher – Wikipedia

Tyrant Flycatchers – Tyrannidae Family


Ian’s Bird of the Week – Yellow-legged Flyrobin/Flycatcher

Yellow-legged Flyrobin (Microeca griseoceps) by Ian

Yellow-legged Flyrobin (Microeca griseoceps) by Ian

I haven’t had proper internet access for a week, so please forgive me for another late BoW. I’ve been sequestered away in a girls’ boarding school in Armidale on the tablelands of northern New South Wales attending a recorder playing workshop. It was a wonderful experience but quite exhausting and I’ve discovered that you use the same brain cells for playing music as you do for composing text. I managed find some other brain cells to prepare these two photos several days ago – taking time off from practice – but my plan to skip lunch and search for an internet cafe never had much chance of success.

Yellow-legged Flyrobin (Microeca griseoceps) by Ian

Yellow-legged Flyrobin (Microeca griseoceps) by Ian

The Yellow-legged Flycatcher belongs in the obscure category. Unlike its close relative the Jacky-winter – widespread throughout Australia – it is found only in northern Cape York Peninsula and Papua New Guinea. It is a forest dweller, favouring the outer canopy and small (12cm/4in long) so it is easily overlooked. The bright chrome-yellow legs, however, contrast with its rather sombre plumage.

In recent years it has become better known as more birders visit Iron Range National Park near Lockhart River. My 1986 field guide (Slater) describes its status as ‘rare’ and its voice as ‘precise information required’, while my 2000 one (Morecombe) says it is ‘common’ and provides a detailed description of its call (variations on “wheeit”).

Like the Jacky-winter and the rather similar Lemon-bellied Flycatcher of northern Australia it is a member of the Petroicidae. the Australo-Papuan Robins and is not related to other flycatchers. To emphasize this distinction, the international name for the Yellow-legged and the Lemon-bellied is ‘Flyrobin’ (there are several species in PNG) but this name is having an uphill task in being accepted in Australia.

Now, I’m going to go Dangar Falls National Park near Armidale and have a relaxing day or two.
Best wishes,

Yellow-legged Flycatcher
Lemon-bellied Flycatcher

Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Phone: +61-7 4751 3115
Preferred Email:

Lee’s Addition:

Petroicidae Family (Australasian Robins) are in a different Family from other Robins. The American Robin is now the only Robin in with the Thrushes & Allies which are in the (Turdidae) Family. The Clay-colored and White-throated Robins are now Thrushes.  The Muscicadpidae Family which has Robins is in with the Chats and Old World Flycatchers.

The Australasian Robins do not seem to migrate like many others from the other two families mentioned. The American Robin (thrush family) migrates because they are down here now this time of the year.

“Even the stork in the sky Knows her seasons; And the turtledove and the swift and the thrush Observe the time of their migration; But My people do not know The ordinance of the LORD. (Jeremiah 8:7 NASB)