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

Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher,

Oklahoma’s Long-tailed State Bird

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

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SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER in flight

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 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Abernathy_and_Temple_Abernathy and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Abernathy and http://www.visitfrederickok.com/placestosee/abernathy_boys.html .]

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!

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SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER perching on barbed wire

                                     Photo credit: Allaboutbirds.org / 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.]

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SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER, perching on branch

Photo credit: Dick Daniels / Carolinabirds.org

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:

SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHERS, OKLAHOMA’S OFFICIAL BIRD

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!

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SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER with grasshopper

Photo credit: Birds of North America / Joe Overcash