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Oklahoma's Tropical Ambassador

The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

From the Tropics to Tulsa

From the Tropics to Tulsa Scissor-tailed flycatchers are considered Neotropical migrants-birds that spend their winters in Central and south America, returning to North America to nest and raise young. As a rule, scissortails are seen in Oklahoma from early April to late October, though individuals occasionally are seen during the last week of March and some birds linger until mid-November.

The scissortail is one of the earliest summer birds to arrive each spring. Across most of the state, Oklahomans can begin looking for them during the first week in April. Their limited nesting range is primarily concentrated in the southern Great Plains states, from New Mexico to Louisiana and Nebraska southward to southern Texas and adjoining areas of northern Mexico. However, the birds have wandered as far north as Hudson Bay, as far east as New Brunswick, and as far west as Colorado.

In late August, after the breeding season, scissor-tailed flycatchers begin gathering in the evenings in roost trees. The number of birds at these roosts increases gradually until they peak in late September. More than 1,000 birds may gather at a roost; however, most contain between 100 and 300 birds. The birds fan out in all directions from the roost to search for food during the day, returning just before dusk. During the breeding season, males also leave the nest tree at dusk to join other males and unmated females at a common roost tree, returning to the nest the following morning.

Roosts most often are located in mature trees in isolated groves along streams or occasionally in towns. They often are used for several years in succession, with some roosts known to be used in excess of 20 years. During October, the number of birds returning to the roosts gradually drops as the scissortails begin their fall migration.

Like most songbirds, scissortails migrate at night. The daylight hours are spent resting and feeding to build the fat reserves that will sustain them during the next night's flight. However, it is still unclear whether scissor-tailed flycatchers migrate individually or in small flocks.

The birds winter in the southern half of Florida and the Florida Keys, in south Texas, Mexico and Central America. The birds are common winter visitors to Guatemala at altitudes under 5,000 feet.

GIF - Map of Scissortails' Range

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