Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Tyrannus forficatus
A Scissor-tailed Flycatcher specimen on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

An extremely large (11-15 inches) flycatcher, the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher is most easily identified by its gray head and back, pale breast, dark wings, and exceptionally long “swallow-tailed” tail feathers comprising well over half of its body length. Adult birds are almost unmistakable in this species’ breeding range, although they may be confused with adult Fork-tailed Flycatchers (Tyrannus savanna), which are darker on the head and face, that occur in this species’ tropical winter range and as rare vagrants further north. Male and female Scissor-tailed Flycatchers are similar to one another in all seasons. The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher breeds in portion of the southern Great Plains stretching from Nebraska and Missouri south to Texas and northern Mexico. In winter, this species migrates south to southern Mexico, Central America, and extreme southern Florida. During migration, stray individuals occasionally appear far from this species’ breeding range, some turning up as far north as southern Canada. Scissor-tailed Flycatchers breed in a variety of open habitats, including grasslands, prairies, and fields, utilizing similar habitats in winter as in summer. In particular, these birds require sections of habitat containing isolated low trees, bushes, or fence posts suitable for perching or nesting. Like most of their relatives, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers primarily eat small flying insects. In appropriate habitat, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers are most easily seen scanning the grass or brush from a prominent perch. These birds hunt by flying out from perches to capture prey in the air, displaying their characteristic tail feathers as they do so. Scissor-tailed Flycatchers are primarily active during the day.

DC Information

An accidental visitor from the Midwest, seen three times in this region in the 1860's and 1880's. No recent records.

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalization

Sound from xeno-canto. XC56430 Tyrannus forficatus (Scissor-tailed Flycatcher)