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What is Oklahoma’s State Bird? How was it Decided?

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Scissor-tailed Flycatcher in flight

Each state in the United States of America has its unique state symbols. It may come as no surprise that the state animal of Oklahoma is the American Buffalo or Bison. After all, Oklahoma is well known for its grasslands and rolling plains with free-roaming Bison. But what’s the state bird of Oklahoma? Well, that answer would be the Scissor-tail Flycatcher.

 If you aren’t familiar with the Great Plains and the south-central United States, namely Oklahoma and Texas, then you may not have even heard of this bird. If you are familiar with these areas, chances are you’ve seen them perched on fencing or wires along the roadside. Here we’ll learn all about the Scissor-tail Flycatcher and how they secured their place as the state bird of Oklahoma.

hummingbird divider

The Scissor-tail Flycatcher

The Scissor-tail Flycatcher is a long-tailed bird of the genus Tyrannus, a group of insectivorous flycatchers. They were first known by the scientific name, Muscivora forficata but that was officially changed within the scientific community, and they are now the Tyrannus forficatus. The members of the tyrannus genus are collectively referred to as kingbirds.

The Scissor-tail Flycatcher is notable in the southern Great Plains of the United States. Also referred to as the Swallow-tailed Flycatcher and the Texas-Bird-of-Paradise, this species is unmistakable with its lengthy, scissor-like tail. They are mainly found throughout Texas and Oklahoma during the breeding season, but their range also encompasses some surrounding states.

scissor-tail flycatcher perched on a branch

Image Credit: engalapag, Pixabay

Appearance

Weight: 3-1.5 oz
Length: 10 -15 inches
Wingspan: Up to 6 inches

Scissor-tailed Flycatchers are easily identified because of their distinct, long, scissor-like tail that is proportionally longer than the rest of their body. Their tail alone can reach up to 9 inches in length, compared to the bird’s total length of 10 to 15 inches. Their wingspan reaches up to 6 inches and they typically weigh anywhere between 1.3 to 1.5 ounces once fully mature.

They are pale gray birds with white breasts and black wings that have a hint of scarlet red on the shoulders. Adult Scissor-tail Flycatchers have salmon-pink flanks, and the coloration extends to their underwing patches, which are visible during flight. Males are more vibrantly colored and have much longer tails than females. Younger birds look very similar to adults but have shorter tails with only slight forking.

Habitat and Migration

The Scissor-tail Flycatcher is most often observed on roadside fencing or wires. This species prefers the open country and rarely makes its way into urban or residential areas. They are common in ranches, farmland, and open grasslands.

They are Neotropical migrants that will spend the winters in Central and South America. They migrate up into Texas and Oklahoma during the breeding season. They can also be found in some surrounding states including Missouri, Kansas, Louisiana, Arkansas, the very southern portion of Nebraska, and even Colorado, but they are more scarce in these states than in Oklahoma and Texas.

scissor-tailed flycatcher flying

Image Credit: Natalia Kuzmina, Shutterstock

Diet and Feeding Behavior

The Scissor-tail Flycatcher’s diet consists primarily of insects including flies, grasshoppers, beetles, wasps, moths, caterpillars, and many more. They may also eat spiders, berries, and other wild fruits on occasion. As their name implies, they are known for grabbing up insects in mid-air.

They forage by perching and keeping a watchful eye out for unsuspecting insects. They will also forage by hovering over the ground. They are experts at maneuverability and are very nimble in the air.

Reproduction and Nesting

When breeding season comes around, the male will put on an impressive flight display to woo the female. He will repeatedly ascend and descend through the air while opening and closing his scissortail and letting out sharp calls. They are even known to backward somersault in midair.

The female will nest in a tree or taller shrub anywhere from about 7 to 30 feet from the ground. They like to nest on utility poles or other man made structures like towers and bridges. The female builds the nest of twigs, weeds, grass, and any other suitable material she can find.  She will typically lay anywhere from 3 to 5 eggs, which are white with brown and gray blotching.

Once the little ones hatch, both parents take on the role of providing food to the babies. After about 14 to 16 days after hatching, the young one will be ready to leave the nest and go off on its own.

scissor-tail flycatcher perched on wire fence

Image Credit: PublicDomainImages, Pixabay

The State Bird of Oklahoma

In 1932, the Oklahoma Federation of Women’s Clubs sponsored a contest to determine what species of bird the citizens would like to see as the state symbol. The winner of this contest was the Bobtail Quail. Now, this contest was not official, but the Bobtail Quail was one of the top contenders along with the Scissor-tail Flycatcher when the time came to make the official decision.

Ultimately, the Scissor-tail Flycatchers nabbed the title of Oklahoma’s state bird thanks to the successful push from Oklahoma’s Audubon Society, garden clubs, and other wildlife committees with support from the chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Game and Fish, Lou Allard.

What led to the decision was the Scissor-tail Flycatcher’s Oklahoma nesting range, their diet of harmful insects, and the fact that no other state has designated it as their own. As of May 26, 1951, under the House Joint Resolution Number 21, the Scissor-tail Flycatcher was officially designated as the state bird of Oklahoma. They are now featured on the U.S. Mint’s Oklahoma quarter and the current state license plates.

Tips for Seeing the Scissor-tail Flycatcher in the Wild in Oklahoma

For those hoping to catch a glimpse of this agile bird, it’ll need to be timed correctly and it’s best to make your way into their prime habitat. Scissor-tail Flycatchers are found in Oklahoma from early April into late October. It’s not unheard of for some individual birds to show up in late March and even linger within the state into early to mid-November before migrating south.

You’re not likely to find this bird in urban or residential areas. They prefer the open country and prairies and are most frequently spotted along the roadside perching on fences, telephone lines, or on isolated tree branches. To sum it up, the best way to find a Scissor-tail Flycatcher is to take a nice peaceful drive in the open country and keep a lookout alongside the road. 

Final Thoughts

The Scissor-tail Flycatcher became the official state bird more than 20 years before the Bison took their place as the official state animal in 1972. Their range in the United States is more centrally localized to Oklahoma, as they thrive in the open country within the state. Perhaps we can all agree that the Scissor-tail Flycatcher being chosen as the official bird of Oklahoma was a choice well made to represent this beautiful state.

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Featured Image Credit: WillHuebie, Shutterstock

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.

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