There’s a great book called “100 Birds and How They Got Their Names.” I don’t need it today. Although I’ve never seen the bird perched before me, I know exactly what it is and why it’s called a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus).
At the end of a long day touring the Western Everglades, I’m driving a van of tourists back to Fort Myers. My tour narration has ended and most are asleep until I shout “Scissor-tailed Flycatcher!”, make an expert U-turn on a desolate road and park under the telephone wire the bird is perched upon. I’m excited. The guests are excited, but they’re not sure why yet. The salmon-bellied bird with a white-head and long tail feathers looks down at us with ambivalence. He’s perched on a wire just like they are known to do.
The scissor-shaped tail gives them the ability to make acrobatic maneuvers in flight as they seek out airborne insects. They will go to the ground for grasshoppers and other terrestrial arthropods but this one does an air show for us, grabs a meal and perches on the next wire.
During courtship they can do reverse summersaults and other enticing displays for the female’s approval. Long ago the extended tail feathers may have helped birds of the same species recognize their own, but these days the scissor-shape is a sign of genetic fitness and thus used for mate selection.
One of the tourists is snapping picture after picture and turns to me and says “If the guide is taking pictures, I better take pictures too!”
And she should. It’s an amazing bird.