Illustration: Scissor-tailed flycatcher

Illustration by H. Douglas Pratt

Map

Map: Scissor-tailed flycatcher range

Audio

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

Bird Features

  • Photo: A red bird with black wings on a branch

    Backyard Birding Central

    Want to learn more about our feathered friends of the sky? Visit our Backyard Birding site for facts, photos, videos, and more.

  • Illustration: Great horned owl

    What's That Bird?

    Identify your backyard visitors in a flash! Just answer four simple questions to search our database of 150 backyard birds common to Canada and the U.S.

See More Bird Features »

Bird News

See More Animal News »

Birds A-Z

National Geographic Magazine

  1. Photo: bowerbird mating game between female and male bowerbirds.

    Bowerbirds Gallery

    To woo a "Mary," bowerbirds decorate with shells, cans, even pink paper clips.

  2. Photo: Female whooping crane feeding her young

    Counting Cranes Gallery

    How many whooping cranes are there? Not enough. See photos of these birds in action.

From the Magazine

  1. Photo: Two adult preen, Ireland

    Gannets Pictures

    Champion divers but clumsy landers, doting parents but hostile neighbors—northern gannets abound in contradictions.

  2. Photo: Silent Ural owl

    Estonia's Ural Owls

    Photographer Sven Začek provides an intimate view of this large raptor.