Archive for July, 2005

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher in Georgia

Thursday, July 14th, 2005

On a hot, humid, hazy afternoon in early July, I stepped out of my car at the edge of a farm pasture in Madison County, Georgia, trying to avoid stepping in one of the many fire ant nests that peppered the scrubby grass, and looked out toward a big sweet gum tree that stood in the middle of the field. Almost immediately, a bird appeared like a dreamy mirage, as if my own expectations had created it, and flew out of the sweet gum and into a smaller tree several feet away – a medium-sized bird trailing an amazingly long, thin, elegant tail – the unmistakable shape of a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.

The sight was made possible for me by Mark Freeman, a fellow birder who discovered a pair of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers nesting here and let others know about it through a posting on Georgia Birders Online. With the permission of the landowners, he included directions to the site. My husband, Clate, and I arrived about the same time as two other couples, and we all watched the birds from the side of the road for half an hour or more – though most of that time, only one was in view. For one or two minutes, through my scope, I saw both male and female sitting together on a branch of the smaller tree out in the field. Then both flew away. In flight, their bodies looked almost like arrows, with the long tail held out straight, its thin shape swelling at the end. A few minutes later, we discovered one of the birds – we think it was the male – perched in the top of a pecan tree near the roadside, giving us a very good view for several minutes.

Even through binoculars, he was handsome, and through a scope, his features stood out well against the hazy blue sky. The head, breast, and back of an adult Scissor-tail Flycatcher are very pale gray, but to me, they appeared white, and the head and neck looked large and strong. Long, shadowy, dark gray wings extended down below the tail as he perched, and the black and white tail itself swept out majestically in a thin, stiff, shallow curve up, like the feathery strokes of a paintbrush extended preposterously far. As he perched, he looked around alertly, head held high, and he looked solid and sturdy, despite the extravagant tail. He called repeatedly, a rather liquid, loud and emphatic “preep!” Once, he lifted his wings briefly, as if to shake them, flashing the bright salmon pink color underneath them.

Scissor-tailed Flycatchers usually nest in a relatively small area that includes much of Texas, Oklahoma and parts of adjacent states, in open, brushy country, maybe not unlike the pasture where we saw them here. To find them nesting in Georgia, or even to see them here, is rare. The landowner came by while we were there, and offered to let us walk closer so that we could see the nest, so we all six walked through the gate and across a minefield of cow patties and fire ant nests — a small price to pay — and got close enough so that we could see it, barely. It was tucked into the thick leaves of the sweet gum tree, fairly high up, and we could not see it well, or tell if there was a female sitting there. But the male returned again and again to the high branches of the pecan, and we stopped on our way out to take a last look. Seeing these Scissor-tailed Flycatchers here, so close to home, reminded me of how much we most often miss of what goes on in our own natural landscape, all around us. Thanks to an observant and generous landowner, who first spotted these unusual birds and was kind enough to share them!

Photo by Clate Sanders
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