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Scissortail Success (and Failure?)

July 25, 2011

The most exciting thing going in this part of North Carolina, as far as birds are concerned, continues to be the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher nest in western Orange County. Since the nest was discovered no more than two weeks ago, the Scissortails have gone from sitting on eggs to producing three squalling chicks that look to fill the nest to near bursting.  With the two parents apparently visiting regularly to feed their hungry and locationally challenged brood, I decided it was a good time to head out to Anilorac Farm on Dairyland Road to see if I could improve on the less than impressive view of an incubating female I had last time.  So yesterday morning I made the 20 minute trek out to the farmland to have a look.

The owners of the farmhouse have graciously allowed birders to park in their driveway and walk on their property, so I was able to approach as close as I dared and position myself with the sun at my back (such that it could be seen on this hazy summer morning) to get some better looks and photo ops.  The Male was holding court on the antenna, perched above the nest where the three chicks were clearly visible.  He’s far from the most impressive male Scissor-tail I’d ever come across, with a tail that was scarcely as long as his body and a bit disappointing compared to the streamered birds of my youth in Missouri, but as this was the first nest of the species I’d ever seen, I was willing to let that go.  He still showed the faint salmon glow on the sides and the cocksure attitude that is all Tyrannus.

I watched him for around 25 minutes during which time he never once left his perch until the very end when he lit out across the field out of sight.  He’d sit high, not apparently alarmed at our presence some 100 meters away, but chirping nearly constantly with what I assumed was some sort of contact call.  I thought I heard a second bird somewhere in the distance, but I could never be sure, as in the entire time I was there – and also during the much longer period prior that other birders had been there – there was no sign of the female bird.  This seemed awfully for strange for a parent of three very hungry, and nearly fledged, youngsters.

The history of nesting Scissor-tailed Flycatchers in North Carolina is a bit of a sad one. For several years a pair returned to a field in Union County east of Charlotte where they raised several chicks that never had the yen for Carolina that their parents did.  This pair was my first Scissor-tail chase in North Carolina back in 2008, the last year the pair nested.  I managed to find the female of the pair right where she should have been, but not the male.  I heard a couple days later that he’d been hit by a car the very morning I’d found them.  The next year the female did not return, and there haven’t been any nesting pairs in North Carolina until this one.

I had hoped that the sad finale for the Union County pair would not be repeated, but the fact that no one had seen the female bird the entire time we were there, nor, as I heard later, had anyone seen the female bird the day before, seems troubling.  One hopes we were just out of luck, and that the female is one to travel far afield and not return for some time.  For what it’s worth, the owners of the property claim to have seen both adults together but there’s no news on how recently that was.  In any case, the young are nearly fledged, and perhaps they’re far enough along that the male alone can get at least one or two out and feeding themselves.  It would be sad for this most recent record to end the way the last one did.

Fingers crossed for the chicks’ well-being.  A nice bird nonetheless.

  1. July 26, 2011 12:20 am

    It’s approaching a year since I observed my lifer Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. A moment I won’t soon forget. It too caused excitement and was a daily post on ontbirds. I hope the female of the NC breeding pair reappears. Thanks for sharing your revisit.

  2. July 26, 2011 11:06 am

    This is the sort of thing in wildlife biology that I can hardly bear. eef. Will cross fingers and try to think of something else, now. Good luck!!!

  3. July 26, 2011 1:15 pm

    Scissor-tailed Fly nesting in North Carolina? Didnt expect that one! I hope the female shows up and the young make it back next year.

  4. Nate permalink*
    July 27, 2011 10:29 am

    @Bob- My pleasure. Great birds, aren’t they?

    @biobabbler- I’ve heard no reports either way, so perhaps your fingers crossing works?

    @Chatterbirds- Definitely a strange report. Prior nesting ST Flys in NC have returned for multiple years, so it’s possible. It’d be great if they come back next year.

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