21 September 2012

Friday Field Notes

"What? In Montana?!"

We expect that this will be the reaction of many of you to learning that a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus) has been making its rounds in eastern Montana. This elegant, long-tailed bird, a member of the Tyrant Flycatcher family (better known around Montana for species such as the Western Wood-Peewee or Olive-sided Flycatcher), has been seen a number of times by birders near Pompey's Pillar National Monument in the past week. According to Montana Field Guide, the state's official database of species information and observations, there have only been 15 recorded observations of Scissor-tailed Flycatcher's in Montana!

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. Pretty--and pretty weird in Montana.
The bird, whose summer breeding range is limited primarily to Texas and Oklahoma, is notorious for wandering far from its traditional range. With a body similar in size to an American Robin, its forked tail essentially doubles the bird's overall length. Scissor-tailed Flycatchers primarily use open, grassland habitats, including roadsides and agricultural lands. They are often seen perched on fence posts or power lines, scanning the ground for grasshoppers and crickets.

With migration season in full swing, this bird should be well on its way south towards Central America, making its appearance in Montana even more unusual. For birders and naturalists alike, this could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a spectacular southern bird in our home state. So if you're around Billings this weekend and have a pair of binoculars, be sure to look for a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. And if you should see it, be sure to let us know!

Happy Birding!

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