Habitat for Scissortails

I want to reclaim the creek area at Tanglefoot Farm, and turn it into a wildlife habitat that looks as if it belongs in the Cross Timbers  (cuz that’s where it is). I’d like to attract local wildlife, and especially  some Scissortailed Flycatchers.  They are pretty little birds, that were designated as our state bird in 1951. Although Oklahoma is at the center of their habitat, their numbers are declining here, and they ranked 11 out of 20 on the Continental Concern List. (A score higher than 13 is indicative of a threat to continued existence of the species) Their declining numbers are attributed largely to loss of habitat, both in the US and in Mexico where they winter. Scissortail Flycatchers like savanna;  prairies grasses with mature smaller trees. They often perch on wire fences or even a sturdy flower, to watch over the prairie grasses for insects.  They prefer to nest in isolated trees or shrubs, and a mated pair will stay close to the nest and guard it vigorously.

Native plants for Native Birds

To help create an enticing habitat for these birds, I plan to include Hackberry and Mulberry in my plantings, which Scissortails will occasionally feed from. Mesquite trees are also on the list, as these are one of the Scissortail’s favorite prairie trees; ideal for nesting, but open enough to allow rapid flight to contend with trespassers.  Scissortails will not nest is a cavity, so building bird houses or shelters will not attract them.


I also purchased some seed for Cudweed and Milk Thistle to add to my prairie grass areas. Scissortails will use the leaves and thistledown to help line the inside of their nests.  They are also willing to use man-made products in their nest building; string, batting, even cigarette butt fibers are found in their nests.

Brave Little Birds

Scissortails actually catch their prey on the fly, much like a hawk does, and these birds in flight can be quite a display.    You can  see the males in their aerial mating dance in early May if you are lucky enough to catch it. They are also quite territorial and will defend what is their’s against all comers, even interlopers who are much larger than they. You can see some amazing photos of a scissortail taking on a  Red Hawk on the DallasTrinity Blog. In Texas these birds are known as the Texas Birds of Paradise.

Scissortail Flycatcher

How to Help Native Birds

What can you do in your outdoor spaces to help the Scissortail and other native birds?   First, make your yard insect-friendly by avoiding pesticides & planting flowers and other plants that attract them. Insects are the primary food source for many species of birds. If you have space, allow a little wildness into your yard; tall native grasses and untrimmed native shrubs will encourage nesting and provide shelter. Bird houses and feeders are also much appreciated by our feathered friends. Finally, provide a water source; a fountain or birdbath is an ideal solution, and helps support all kinds of small wildlife.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Marshall Shane McGill

    I live in Corpus Christi, TX. I see these beautiful birds on the outskirts of town, but haven’t noticed any in town. We have four chickens and two ducks, and an abundant amount of flies! Is it possible, or even likely, to attract a family of scissor tails into the city? We are surrounded by two large oak trees behind and to the left of our property that drop leaves and twigs. If we provide the above mentioned plants and some type of structure for them to build a nest?

    The flies are such a nuisance and the addition of beautiful scissor-tails would be lovely.


    1. Cori

      Hi, Shane.
      I’ve seen scissortails in urban areas, but usually around golf courses, larger parks, etc. Because of their foraging habits, they require open-canopy type trees so they can see, and fairly large areas in which to move around. If you have space for them to fly, then by all means, plant trees they might nest in. If mesquite won’t grow in your area, river birch or yaupon holly (in tree form, not the shrub) are good alternatives. Good luck!

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