Verification of Unusual Sight Record
For Utah

Rec. # 2011-28

Common name:

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Scientific name: Tyrannus forficatus
Date: 6 & 7 June 2011
Time: 7:20 am and 7:45 am on the 6th 6:45 on the 7th.
Length of time observed: 30 minutes total
Number: 1
Age: Juvenile?
Sex: ?
Location: Provo Airport Dike (west side)
County: Utah
Elevation: 4500 feet
Distance to bird: 20 feet - 100 yards
Optical equipment: 8x42 Binoculars
Weather: Clear and Calm
Light Conditions: Early morning light. Sun just peaking over the mountain. Both days.
Description:        Size of bird: Looked slightly smaller than Western Kingbirds
(Description:)       Basic Shape: Kingbird
(Description:)  Overall Pattern: Grayish with black tail.
(Description:)            Bill Type: pointy
Field Marks and
Identifying Characteristics:
I almost passed this off as a Western Kingbird. I thought it looked a little odd but what else could it be. 'Must just be the early morning light.' But then it flew out over the road snapped at some insects and flew back to the fence. The greatly forked black tail with much more white on the outer edge than a Western Kingbird was extremely evident and spread wide as it was flycatching. The white outer edge to the tail was very obviously wider than on a Western and was the first thing I noticed when the bird was in flight. The outer tail feathers were much longer than the central tail feathers. The tail was smoothly shaped. The central feathers made a fan shape that then steeply, but smoothly, blended into the outer tail feathers that formed the 'tips' of the fork. The tips of the outer tail feathers were rounded, not pointy or square, and looked like they flared outward (maybe an optical illusion from the shape of the white outer edge of the tail.) A Western Kingbird's tail with missing or newly growing central tail feathers would have looked much different. The tail was longer than a Western Kingbird's tail but wasn't as long the extremely long tail of an adult Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. Perhaps this was a juvenile bird? The bird had a grey back and head with darker wings. I didn't fully realize how pale the grey was until a pair of Western Kingbirds landed right next to it. Compared to the Scissor-tail the Western Kingbirds looked darker and green. The black tail on the kingbirds did not contrast as much as the black in the tail of the Scissor-tailed. The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher looked rounder headed compared to the Westerns and looked like a slighter more slender bird. As I watched it in aerial combat with Western Kingbirds it was noticeably not as bulky as the kingbirds. I don't know if this is normal for scissor-tails or if this was just a particularly small individual. The scissor-tail had some buffy yellowish on the belly. I don't remember seeing any bright pink on the bird.
[see photos]
Song or call & method of delivery: I don't recall hearing any. There were Western Kingbirds chasing it around. There was chattering but I wasn't paying attention to who was chattering.
Behavior: I first spotted it sitting on the top of a tall wire fence right next to the road on the west side of the dike loop, North of the Control Tower. It was flycatching from the fence. It would fly out, zigzag around, then flying back to the fence. A pair of Kingbirds came and started harassing it. It came back to the same fence line a couple of times but eventually flew over the road and out over the marsh on the shore of Utah Lake and disappeared behind a row of trees. I drove the rest of the west side of the dike down to the southwest corner looking for the flycatcher. I then turned around and headed back. I relocated the bird on the fence across the moat South of the control tower. It soon flew out over the airport fields and I watched it fly back and forth over the newly mowed fields, getting in tussles with Western Kingbirds, gradually getting farther and farther away, then my view was blocked by a tree and I lost it.
Habitat: A wire fence. Open fields around airport runways. A moat full of phragmites. A line of trees along the shore of Utah Lake.
Similar species and how
were they eliminated:
I had direct side-by-side comparison with Western Kingbirds. See above description.
Previous experience with
this & similar species:
I have seen Scissor-tails in Texas but that was a long time ago.
I have lots of experience with Western Kingbirds but will definitely be looking at them more closely now.
References consulted: None in the field. The Sibley Guide to Birds iPod App when I got to work. Google images when I got home from work.
Description from: Notes made later
Observer: Eric Huish
Observer's address: 850 E 100 N Pleasant Grove, UT
Observer's e-mail address:
Other observers who independently identified this bird: On June 6th. Tim Avery got there in time to see it flying out over the airport fields. Ned Bixler and Douglas Mead were there with me on June 7th when I found it again in the same spot I first saw it on the 6th. Later that morning several people got to see it. Some got photos. I just checked my email before hitting submit button to submit this record and it looks like the flycatcher is being seen this morning June 8th.
Date prepared: 6 & 8 June 2011
Additional material: Photos
Additional_Comments: I took a very very poor photo with my cell phone but it only really shows habitat, lighting and a little dot on a fence. I drew a sketch of the tail when I got to work. I was going to add these to the record but then the bird was seen again the next day and some people got photos. I'll try to get some photos submitted.