Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher

About a week ago I made the journey from Ohio to southeastern Arizona for a field technician job. Along the way I visited Mohawk Park in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Mohawk Park is a giant of a city park, and it is filled with a wide variety of habitats including deciduous forest, prairie, swamp, lake, and more. I had a few hours to kill there, so I decided to go birding (of course!). Now eastern Oklahoma isn't too different from Ohio when it comes to bird diversity in early May, but there are a few birds you can find there that you can't find in Ohio...

One of these birds is the Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher, a phenomenal and hard-to-ignore species. I've wanted to see a Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher for years now, but their range in the United States is limited to mainly Oklahoma and Texas, with the range also extending into parts of Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, and Kansas. Very rarely one will turn up in Ohio (as one famously did in 2014), but for an Ohioan to realistically see one, they must travel west. To my surprise (and delight), the Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher was a dime a dozen in Oklahoma. Also to my delight was their apparent tameness, as one could easily get close for photos!

The Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher gets its name from its incredibly long tail feathers, which take on a forked "V" shape when in flight (and slightly so when sitting). Although the individual above has some pretty old (and pretty rough-looking) tail feathers, you can see the long size. Females will have a tad bit shorter tails (about 30% shorter), but are still long. As with most exaggerated traits, one would think that the long tail is a sexually-selected trait, such as the giant tail of the Peacock; however, since the females also have a long tail, it does not actually appear to be a sexually-selected trait. If it was sexually-selected, only one of the sexes would (in theory) have the exaggerated tail. Why the long tail then? Although there are hypotheses for why, it is still a debated subject. 

The Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher is a bird of open country with scattered trees. Oftentimes they can be seen perched on electrical wires when driving through Oklahoma. As their name implies, they forage primarily by a method called flycatching, where an individual will sit upon a perch (like in the photo above), look for an insect flying by, and upon seeing one will quickly fly out, catch it, and then return to the perch. Birds which flycatch are fun to watch, and even more so when they're such an awesome species like the Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher!

My internet at the field station I am staying at is very limited, so blog posts will be sadly be sporadic. However, keep on the lookout for more western-themed posts! Thanks for reading!

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