Tag Archives: scissor-tailed flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus)

Often the last to leave

Of all the migratory birds who grace Texas with their collective presence, the scissor-tailed flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus) often is one of the earliest to arrive (March) and one of the last to leave (November).  They migrate out of bordering states earlier, but their stronghold rests in the Lone Star State, the one place where they can be found in great numbers, and they stay here longer than anywhere else.

A scissor-tailed flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus) perched on an overhead wire (2009_04_11_014965)

Briefly they will overwinter in southern Mexico and Central America before heading north again.  And interestingly enough, throughout the spring and autumn migrations they become vagrants by traveling throughout North America before returning to their southern breeding and nesting range.

Close-up of a scissor-tailed flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus) in a tree (2009_09_27_029692)

I find them rather approachable, and their prolific numbers here make them easy to find.  It doesn’t hurt that they hunt in and nest near open fields; that makes them easier to spot than, say, sapsuckers or kinglets.

A scissor-tailed flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus) standing on a concrete pillar (2009_06_03_021826)

Males have the longest tails which reach nearly one foot/30 centimeters in length.  So the challenge comes from trying to get an image of the whole bird without chopping off body parts in favor of detail.

Yet subtleties vanish in wider views, intricacies of pattern and color evident only when one can look beyond that glorious tail and see clearly the body that wears it.

Close-up of a scissor-tailed flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus) in a tree (2009_09_27_029672)

Vivid and alluring, the splendor of their dress is unequaled by their only true cousin, the fork-tailed flycatcher.  No, when it came to plumage as art, the scissor-tailed flycatcher took the prize compared to the other long-tailed species in this part of the world.

Close-up of a scissor-tailed flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus) in a tree (2009_09_27_029679)

They fill the days with a mesmerizing celebration of song and dance performed on the wing.  Whether as courtship or a challenge to territorial interlopers, their aerial acrobatics exist in a solitary class given the magic created by that tail, a stream of feathery ribbons splayed and displayed for all the world to marvel at.

A scissor-tailed flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus) perched on a twig in a field (2009_05_31_021053)

Just yesterday I saw a group of about six scissor-tailed flycatchers as they hunted along the floodplain near my home.  Though perhaps hunting wasn’t all they were doing: the constant talking and flitting to and fro, even up to the treetops, made clear they were preparing to leave, preparing to flee winter’s approach in search of the numerous insects they hunt both in the air and on the ground.

I suspect they will be around White Rock Lake a bit longer before vanishing in the southward flow of life autumn has created.  Unlike many species, however, their absence will last no more than three months before their voices and antics once again fill the air.

[again, more migration photos coming; and pardon me if these migration posts arrive too quickly; I’d really like to complete them before the migration ends]

Why birds?

When I began the process of purging my photo collection, essentially sweeping away the past to make room for the future, I started with birds, something you’ll see in this post and others to follow.

But why birds?

A male wood duck (Aix sponsa) molting into eclipse plumage (20080628_08107)

Good question.

I have a lot of bird pictures.  Yet that’s not really the answer to the question.

A complete albino rock dove (a.k.a. common pigeon; Columba livia) walking into the grass (20080628_07967)

I think I began with birds since our avian friends offer a mix of challenge and ease that results in a veritable bounty of images.

Then again, perhaps I complicate matters when a simpler answer would more appropriately address the question.

A snowy egret (Egretta thula) with a small fish in its bill (20080614_06582)

While I could say it’s because I love birds almost as much as I love insects, even that would not provide the full truth of why I started with our avian friends.

A northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) perched in a treetop (20080518_05644)

It all boils down to this one fact: it’s winter.

A female brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) in the grass (20080426_04903)

Even here in North Texas, winter means an end to the bounty of arthropods and flora and reptiles and a great deal of nature’s many wonders.  Most trees are left stark and barren along with the vast majority of plants as they wither into their cocoons of hibernation or death; cold-blooded creatures fade with the passing seasons into a frigid slumber or the end of their generation; insects and arachnids shrink away beneath the blanket of the first killing freeze; and ultimately most of the beauty I so enjoy disappears under winter’s cloak.

Yet birds thrive, at least where I live, and their numbers and kinds explode as residents leave for warmer days and nights at the same time migrants arrive trying to escape colder temperatures to the north.

A scissor-tailed flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus) perched in a tree (20080426_04717)

So expunging historic photos of birds came naturally since, right now, I’m snapping a lot of bird pictures.

It’s no more complicated than that.  Besides, I have yet to go through the arthropods, plants, mammals and reptiles that comprise the remainder of my collection.  Rest assured they will have their time in the spotlight.

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[1] A male wood duck (Aix sponsa) who’s molting into eclipse plumage.  He wanted to know who and what I was, but his curiosity never won the battle it waged with his sense of self-preservation.  Instead, he followed me along the north shore of White Rock Lake, always staying near enough to keep an eye on me whilst simultaneously being distant enough to feel safe.

[2] A complete albino rock dove (a.k.a. common pigeon; Columba livia).  I have seen partial albinism, incomplete albinism and imperfect albinism in rock doves (along with many other creatures), but this was the first time I ever saw complete albinism in this species.  It foraged and flocked with the dule, yet it stood out like a lone redwood tree in a hayfield.

[3] A snowy egret (Egretta thula) with a small fish in its bill.  This beautiful creature spent the morning wading in the shallows of Sunset Bay looking for something to eat.  I watched it miss more meals than I could count.  Just when I felt the poor thing would go hungry, it caught a small fish and enjoyed the fruit of its labor.

[4] A northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos).  Perched in the top of a tree under which I stood unaware of its presence, this marvelous parent watched me intently as its offspring fledged a few steps away.  I absentmindedly moved toward the child, and it was then the dutiful guard made its presence known with a sweeping dive at my head coupled with the scream of a marauder moving in for the kill.  I snapped the photo as I moved away.

[5] A female brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater).  On a cloudy day and from quite a distance, I felt certain this was nothing more than a sparrow (albeit a large-than-normal sparrow).  Bad lighting can often hide the difference what is and what isn’t.  I walked away from that moment feeling she was something else entirely, something boring, so I was thrilled I took the photo as it brought into focus what I had really seen.

[6] A scissor-tailed flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus).  I watched this individual and one other as they performed their magical aerial ballet in the light of sunrise.  Catching insects in flight is neat enough on its own; doing so with that flowing, unbelievably long tail creates an altogether different image.

If size matters

This bird takes the prize for the longest tail relative to body size, at least that I’ve ever seen.

A scissor-tailed flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus) perched in a tree (20080405_02898)

Unmistakable for any other bird, scissor-tailed flycatchers (Tyrannus forficatus) live at White Rock Lake during all but the coldest season.  Seeing one yesterday means they are migrating back from their overwintering in more tropical parts of the Americas.

A scissor-tailed flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus) perched in a tree (20080405_02904)

To see these beautifully colored and majestically decorated creatures is to experience an unmitigated awe.  Vibrant colors and subtle hues blend seamlessly to create a work of art.

A scissor-tailed flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus) perched in a tree (20080405_02907)

And seeing them in flight…  Well, one cannot help but be mesmerized because of that long flowing tail, especially when a male uses it as part of his courtship display, one replete with aerial acrobatics and showy demonstrations of his stunning plumage.

I stood on a picnic table watching this one flit from branch to branch, taking refuge in a tree along the lake shore until I finally moved on.  The whole while it watched me as keenly as I watched it.

A scissor-tailed flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus) perched in a tree (20080405_02911)

I wish it had understood me when I thanked it for the experience.