Scissortailed Flycatcher
Scissor-tailed flycatcher in flight; photo by Ken Slade on Flickr (noncommercial use permitted with attribution)

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. They 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

Milk ThistleTo 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.

How to Help Native Birds

What can you do in your outdoor spaces to help the Scissortail and 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.

Scissortail Flycatcher


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