Illustration of scissor-tailed flycatcher

Illustration by H. Douglas Pratt


Map: Scissor-tailed flycatcher range


The striking scissor-tailed flycatcher is our only regular “long-tailed kingbird.” It is not only graceful and beautiful, but also common and easy to observe. Monotypic. Length 10–14.8" (25–38 cm).

Identification Adult: medium-size with a long, forked tail. The male’s tail is longer than the female’s. Entirely pale gray head and back; extensive white in outer tail contrasts with blackish upperwings and central tail. Whitish underparts; pinkish wash on belly. Salmon to salmon-pink sides, flanks, and underwing coverts; bright red axillaries. Female duller; red crown patch reduced or absent. Juvenile: duller yellowish pink on underparts; tail much shorter. Immature generally similar to adult female.

Similar Species Adult is unmistakable. Immature is superficially like the western kingbird, but it lacks pure yellow tones on belly and its tail is proportionately longer, narrower, forked, more extensively white.

Voice Call: sharp bik or pup; also a chatter. Dawn song: a repeated series of bik notes interspersed with perleep or peroo notes; given when perched or during display flight.

Status and Distribution Common. Breeding: open country with scattered trees and shrubs. Migration: In spring, arrives mid-March–early April, peaks April–early May, stragglers to June. In fall, begins early August, peaks mid-September–late October, stragglers into November. Winter: southern Florida, southern Mexico to central Costa Rica, occasionally southwestern Panama. Rare in Texas, Louisiana; even locally regular central-­­south Texas, extreme southeastern Louisiana. Vagrant: rare to casual, mainly in spring, to Pacific coast, southeastern Alaska, southern Canada, Atlantic coast.

Population Stable; gradual range expansion to North and East.

—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006

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