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The Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher: A really rare find in Kentucky

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By Horace Brown

My current home, which is a small, wooded farm named “Wingspan,” located in the northeast corner of Shelby County, near where Franklin and Henry counties also come together, is a place as near to heaven as one could find.

This lovable tract fronts on a road named Catwalk and backs up to an outstanding fishing lake with 6.5 miles of shoreline, named Trailwood.

The land becomes even more enjoyable because beautiful and varied wildlife abound, and you can add to that the best neighbors that I ever have had or could imagine. This has been wonderful since January 1997, when I first moved here.

One evening, just a few years back, one of those neighbors, who had retired and now had more time to spend doing fun things such as bird watching, called me as I was enjoying one of my wife, Iris’s, gourmet dinners.

My neighbor explained to me that earlier that day he had been hiking n Catwalk Road, above “Wingspan,” when he observed what he originally thought was a Northern Mockingbird with a long tail, sitting on a utility wire.

He said he walked back home, consulted his bird identification book, and decided that he had seen a very similar-looking bird in Texas while visiting one of his relatives there.

He said he decided the bird was a Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher, which also happens to be the state bird of Oklahoma. He said it was still sitting on the utility wires above my house, if I were interested in seeing it.

Iris and I immediately stopped eating, grabbed binoculars and cameras, hurried out the door and headed to Catwalk for a look-see. Lo and behold, sure enough, just above the farm, sitting on the wires, was a male Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher.

This was June 19, 2002, and as it turned out, it was the eighth sighting of this species ever in Kentucky, thanks to my wonderful neighbor.

The Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher is a 10-15-inch-long bird with a 15-inch wingspan, and its tail feathers are longer in the male than the female.

They normally breed from southern Nebraska, western Arkansas and eastern Texas, south to southern Texas, west to southeastern New Mexico and to western Oklahoma.

They also were fond breeding and nesting in western Kentucky, in at least two locations, in the summer of 2002, but this species actually started being seen in our state as far back as the spring of 1963.

Winter is spent in Panama with a few also hanging out in Florida, and as the spring urge occurs, the Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher forms large migrating flocks and heads north.

If you are fortunate enough in the springtime to be in the vicinity when the male is feeling his oats, you will be in for a real treat. He performs a spectacular  aerial courtship. With his long scissor-like tail, he can maneuver and “sky dance” in a very graceful manner.

To have this bird around your property is also very interesting because of his kingbird-like, harassing-type attitude toward haws, vultures, ravens and crows. The Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher loves living in open country and actually can catch 100 percent of its food on the wing.

Its nest is located between 7 and 30 feet above the ground, in an isolated tree, or it can be placed on the crossbars of utility poles, windmills, towers or bridge frameworks.

The next is bulky and roughly built out of plant stems, weeds thistledown, cotton or wood, felted and lined with moss or cotton.

Three to six creamy, brown-spotted eggs are laid by the female and incubated by her for 12 to 13 days. The Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher is one of the few species of birds that regularly remove any cowbird egg that has been deposited in their nests, even though the two species eggs are very similar.

So, if you are hiking around on a summer day and see a grayish bird that resembles a mockingbird but with a long, scissor-like tail, of which he or she seems proud, then, like my neighbor you will have observed a Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher, a rare bird that certainly is not very common in Kentucky’s Great Outdoors.

 

To read more of Horace Brown’s columns on bird, visit www.SentinelNews.com/recreation