Friday, July 31, 2015

Scissor-tailed Flycatchers

I recently received a set of photographs from Karsen Bell, our 16 year old correspondent from the Joplin area.  He has been following a scissor-tailed flycatcher family that was nesting in a crab apple tree in the back yard, the nest conveniently placed so he could photograph it without climbing.

Scissor-tailed flycatchers (Tyrannus forficatus) are in the same genus as the kingbirds we see so commonly in our fields.  Tyrannus or tyrant-like refers to the aggressive defense that they make of their breeding territory, fighting off much larger birds.

They tend to nest in open shrubby territory with isolated trees and shrubs as found in Karsen's yard.  Missouri is at the northern edge of their breeding area in the southern Great Plains although stray birds can be found anywhere in the USA and even in Canada.  With climate change, it is no surprise that their range is slowly expanding northward.  You can visualize their migration at this site which predicts their expansion into Nebraska soon.  They migrate to southern Mexico through to Panama in the winter.

June 11
Their cupped nests are built by the female, using a wide variety of materials including weeds, grass, twigs and stems for the outer structure.  The cup itself and the inner lining may include a wide variety of materials including flowers, string, cloth, paper and even cigarette filters.  One study found 30% of the nest was of human refuse. Incubation is 14-17 days followed by 2 weeks of feeding the young insects before they fledge.

23 days later
We frequently see a scissor-tail perched on a telephone line along the highway, its distinctive tail visible from far away.  Unlike a peacock, this long tail is not just for show.  While flying straight the tail extends out back, only to spread during twisting, turning maneuvers, at times almost hovering in midair to catch insects on the  fly.

While the scissor-tailed flycatcher is the Oklahoma state bird, it also receives recognition in Missouri as the title of the Greater Ozarks Audubon newsletter, the GOAS Scissor-tail.

All photographs by Karsen Bell.