LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- This week's Bird of the Week will be the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher...a very beautiful and charismatic bird.
It is actually in the same genus as last week's bird, the Eastern Kingbird, so they are very closely related, but they do not luck much alike at all.
The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher is a slender bird with a pale gray head and body, blackish wings and tail, and pale underparts. Adults have salmon pink patches at their flanks and that color deepens as it approaches the birds' underwings. That color patch is very conspicuous in flight. And of course, they have extremely long tail feathers, for which they are named.
Males and females are similar in appearance, but males are a little more intensely colored and have longer tails, and immatures have relatively shorter tails even than the females.
Like the Kingbirds, Scissor-tails are fiercely territorial. They begin arriving in Arkansas in late March and leave here to head for their wintering grounds in October. They are common throughout Central and Western Arkansas during that time, and are much less common in the Delta, though they have been found nesting in several counties in the Delta as well.
As is the habit of flycatchers, Scissor-tails prefer open areas, often using barbed-wire fences, utility lines, or the tip of a branch as their perch, from which they "flycatch", by leaving the perch a short distance, flying in a small circle while they catch an insect in the air, and returning to that exact same spot on the perch. Their diet is composed almost entirely of insects, primarily grasshoppers, crickets, and beetles. They usually eat their prey in the air, but they will bring large prey items back to their perch and beat it to death before eating it.
These birds nest in Arkansas, and are extremely tolerant to human presences, so they are common in urban areas, even in downtown Little Rock (they are all over the Clinton Library lawn). An interesting fact is that Scissor-tails use lots of human products when constructing their nests, including string, carpet fuzz, cloth, paper, and cigarette filters...one study in Texas found that up to 30 percent of an individual nest might be made up of artificial materials.
That extremely long tail helps with agility in the air, helping them to make sudden stops, and fast twists and turns when hunting flying insect prey.
Because this species is common, people can see Scissor-tails throughout their range in open areas, including along roadsides, in agricultural areas, pasturelands, city parks, golf courses, and parking lots.