Bird Watcher's General Store

Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher - 12/05/03


Dear Bird Folks:

Last week, while I was taking my pug dog, Mitzi, for a walk on Marconi Beach in Wellfleet, I came upon a group of nerdy bird watchers. They were all standing in the middle of the parking lot, staring at what appeared to be a mockingbird. I was told that the bird was a "Scissor-tailed Flycatcher". I didn't have any binoculars with me, but the bird didn't seem to be anything special to me. What was all the excitement about?

- Toby, Wellfleet

Hold on Toby,

You were spending the day at the beach, with Mitzi the pug dog (whom I'm sure was wearing a sweater), and you are calling a group of highly informed bird watchers "nerdy"? Let me tell you something about my fellow bird watchers. They are by far one of the most respectable......, wait, I know the group you are talking about. You are right, they are kind of nerdy. Forget what I said and no offense to Mitzi or her sweater.

It's too bad you didn't have binoculars with you, because Scissor-tailed Flycatchers are really good looking birds. I'd be the first to admit that many birds are dull and difficult to identify. Some birds are so similar, they are impossible to figure out. You know, like trying to tell the difference between a pug dog and a squashed loaf of bread. But there are plenty of birds like puffins and roadrunners, that will even catch the eye of non-nerdy people. The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher is one of those exciting, eye-catching birds. With it's pink colored sides and elegant 9 inches long tail, the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher is a striking bird.

Mostly found in Texas, Oklahoma and whatever that state is above Oklahoma, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers are indeed a rare bird in these parts. They are more at home flying across the open western grasslands, than the dunes of Cape Cod.

What makes this bird so fun to watch, is that it is a highly active bird and sits out in the open for all to see. Perched high on an exposed branch or post, the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher watches with its keen eyes, looking for the slightest movement. Once it spots an insect, it zips out after it, flashing its rose colored sides and opening and closing its showy tail, like, of all things, a pair of scissors.

Beetles, grasshoppers, bees and wasps appear to be this bird's favorite food. That's right, these birds actually eat bees and wasps and seem to enjoy them. That should really freak out those people who worry about birds eating wedding rice.

After the breeding season, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers form massive communal roosts, in which many hundreds of these splendid birds may be seen in a single tree. In the morning the entire flock heads off in different directions, creating what must be a spectacular sight. Seeing a sight like that would almost make it worth going to Texas. I said almost.

After the breeding season, a few flycatchers go to Florida, but most of them head to Central America, where they have cleaner elections. What this lone bird is doing so far from its normal range is anybody's guess. It could have gotten pushed here by a storm or its migration instincts somehow failed. Or perhaps it won five million dollars in the lottery and used it as a down payment for a one bedroom cottage in South Wellfleet. Whatever the reason, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers do have a habit of showing up on Cape Cod every few years.

It is now the first week of December and the bird that you saw has been in the same spot (the parking lot at Marconi Beach) for nearly three weeks. I have no idea how long the bird will stay there, if it will finally get a clue and head south or even if it will survive. But if I were you, I would grab yourself some binoculars and go back and take a good look at this flashy looking bird, while you still can.

Scissor-tailed Flycatchers are warm weather birds and they really aren't made to handle our Cape Cod climate. However, it is not up to us to interfere. But if seeing it out there in the cold concerns you, Toby, you can always let it borrow one of Mitzi's sweaters.

Artwork by Catherine Clark



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