What is the State Bird of Oklahoma? (And Why?)

Oklahoma is the 28th most populated state and the 20th largest by total area. The state includes mountain regions, woodlands and open plains. The state animal for Oklahoma is the American Buffalo, but what is the state bird?

The state of Oklahoma chose the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (originally Muscivora forficate; re-classified as Tyrannus forficatus) as the state bird in 1951. This flycatcher mostly eats insects, especially flies, hence its name. Its love of insects ingratiated it to the mostly agricultural state.

The state bird for Oklahoma, the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

The state bird for Oklahoma, the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Why is the scissor-tailed flycatcher the state bird for Oklahoma?

The road to naming a state bird wound up long, with the state holding its first contest amongst its schoolchildren in 1932. The bobwhite won that contest, sponsored by the 1932 State Federation of Women's Clubs. The legislature did not act, though, and the state continued without an official bird for nearly two decades.

The state's Audubon Society, garden clubs, and wildlife groups backed the flycatcher, and in 1951, they convinced Lou Allard, chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Game and Fish, to champion the bird. The bird's preferred diet of harmful insects and its nesting area within the borders of Oklahoma made it the favorite. With the passage of House Joint Resolution Number 21, the state became the first and only state to name the scissor-tail flycatcher its state bird.

The state of Oklahoma so loves its scissor-tail flycatcher that it chose the state bird as the subject of its state quarter in the US Mint's series issue of each state. The quarter for OK depicts a scissor-tailed flycatcher in flight over the state wildflower, the Indian blanket, with its scissor tail feathers, spread wide.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher about to take off

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher about to take off

When did the scissor-tailed flycatcher become the state bird for Oklahoma?

The state of Oklahoma legislature adopted the scissor-tailed flycatcher as the state bird on May 26, 1951. Oklahoma does not share the scissor-tailed flycatcher as a state bird with any other state.

What does the state bird of Oklahoma look like?

Recognizable by its forked tail that splits six inches deep, the scissor-tailed flycatcher's body appears soft gray on its back and sides with a white or cream-colored stomach. Their flanks and undertail appear salmon pink. The state bird seems to wear a suit since it features gray and black wings and a tail.

Both genders grow to about 8.7 to 14.6 inches in length. These birds weigh a bit more than the songbirds common throughout the country – between 1.3 to 2 ounces. They have a wingspan of about 4.5 to 4.9 inches.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher perched on a wire

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher perched on a wire

How do these birds behave?

Although these birds range and live in both North and Central America, the species’ nesting range only ranges from southern Texas to southern Nebraska. In the midst of that, of course, lies Oklahoma. During summer, the flycatcher crowds the state, inhabiting its open shrubby areas. They prefer grasslands, scattered trees, savannahs, the edges of tropical moist and tropical dry forests. Since they find none of the latter in Oklahoma, they stick to pastures, farm fields, and roadsides. You can also see them in many cities and town parks.

The flycatcher builds its nest up high, away from predators, typically seven to 40 feet above the ground. They will just as likely build in a tree as they will a man-made post or pole. They perch on utility lines, fences, flagpoles.

They reuse holes made by other animals for their homes. If a woodpecker deserts its hole, the flycatcher takes it over. Inside this hole, they build a nest, essentially a soft bed, fashioned from grass, twigs, weeds, hair, and lined with rootlets.

These birds became famous for their mating dance. Climbing in flight to a height of about 100 feet, the males begin a series of V-shaped flights. Their aerial feats are intended to attract suitable females for mating. This practice goes on throughout the summer in Oklahoma. When the female chooses her mate, they locate an appropriate tree hole or another hideaway, and the female constructs the nest of nearly six inches in circumference in a tall, isolated tree. Copulation ensues once the nest is complete. The female lays just one egg per day, so creating the eggs could last the equivalent of a weekend or a week.

A scissor-tailed Flycatcher perched in its nest

A scissor-tailed Flycatcher perched in its nest

Do scissor-tailed flycatchers form communities?

Known as gregarious birds, the scissor-tailed flycatchers become more introverted during their breeding season. They pair off and spend time with their mate. Although they forage as a group the rest of the year, during the breeding season, they forage singly or in pairs. Scissor-tailed flycatchers form couples for procreation and mating. These serial monogamous birds pair up to have families, then form a larger flock.

The couple typically creates three to six eggs. These hatch in 14 to 17 days. The female bird incubates the eggs.

After the breeding season, the scissor-tailed flycatchers gather in large roosts of hundreds of birds. During the breeding season, however, only the males join these communal roosts and only at night. They return to their home in the morning.

These birds use language to communicate rather than singing for entertainment. They make both twittering and chattering sounds. Their best-known call sounds like "kee-kee-kee-kee."

A scissor-tailed Flycatcher catching a locust

A scissor-tailed Flycatcher catching a locust

What do scissor-tailed flycatchers eat?

These diurnal birds typically wait on a perch to catch insects, a practice called hawking. Just as frequently though, they will gather insects from the ground or from vegetation. This bird particularly enjoys grasshoppers, mealworms, and crickets.

You can attract scissor-tailed flycatchers to your yard by seemingly providing them with their preferred habitat. Make your bird feeder or birdhouse seem as much like their favorite forested habitat as possible. While they do not frequently eat much besides insects, they have been known to vary their diet by visiting mulberry or hackberry bushes for a snack.

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