Beak of the Week – Fork-tailed Flycatcher

Fork-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus savana)
Family: Tyrannidae

We at Houston Audubon wish you all a Happy New Year, full of renewal and good luck. And what is luckier than finding a Fork-tailed Flycatcher in Galveston County? This Central and South American species rarely ventures into the United States, but last Wednesday, one made its way into Texas City.

This small flycatcher is in the same genus as kingbirds and has similar plumage to the Eastern Kingbird: a black cap, white underside, and gray back. The key difference is its extremely long, forked, black tail, which can reach up to 6 inches in adult males. Fork-tailed Flycatchers have longer tails than Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, which can be as long as 5 inches. Females have slightly shorter tails than males and the tails of juveniles are shorter still.

The range of the Fork-tailed Flycatcher extends from Southern Mexico to Argentina. However, they have a tendency to wander north. So although they are rare visitors to the United States, they show up fairly consistently, and have even been seen in Canada. They prefer open habitat like fields and marshes where they perch conspicuously on fence lines and posts to catch insects like other flycatchers.

Fork-tailed Flycatchers are usually solitary birds but can sometimes form small flocks. Their long tail helps them be agile and acrobatic while catching insects. It also is an important part of the aerial courtship dance performed by a male for a female. 

Hopefully this little bird is a good omen for 2021 and leads us into a healthier year.
By Phoebe Honscheid, Conservation Technician, Houston Audubon
📸 Photos by Greg Lavaty

Visit our Bird Gallery to read about other Texas birds!

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