Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - Tyrannus forficatus
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General Comments The beautiful Scissor-tailed Flycatcher nests in the south-central United States, primarily in Texas and Oklahoma, but also regularly to Louisiana. Surprisingly, "vagrant" birds have managed to find mates and nest as far east as North Carolina and South Carolina, far from the usual range. In fact, it has nested as of 2012 in three, and possibly four, locales in North Carolina. However, it is primarily known as a rare migrant, mainly toward the coast. Breeding habitat is always around large open farmland, with scattered trees, usually with powerlines and transformers (nesting sites). Migrants are typically seen perched on telephone lines in farmland and other open areas. Thankfully, the number of records of this species in the state has been increasing in recent years.
Breeding Status Breeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status W
U.S. Status
State Rank SAB,SZ
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Transient/vagrant, both in late spring/summer and again in fall; accidental breeder. Very rare to rare "transient" along and near the coast, including the Tidewater zone; casual inland. A pair nested in Southern Pines (Moore) for two years, in 2006 and 2007 [Chat 71:33 link]. Mostly from late May through Jul, and Sep to late Nov. One was very early in Buxton (Dare) on 2 Apr 2021. There are also a handful of winter reports, though the late date of 4 Jan indicates that the species is unable to overwinter. Peak counts: one, for migrants.
Piedmont Transient/vagrant, and sporadic breeder at two known sites. Very rare in migration, with more records for the southern part of the province. Most records from Apr to Aug (early date is 23 Mar; late date is 21 Oct). The first documented nesting in NC was near Monroe (Union) in 2000 [Chat 64:146-49 link]. Nesting continued at the same site for several years, until the male was killed by a passing car in 2008 [Chat 72:141-42 link]. In 2011, a pair nested near Chapel Hill, and also possibly in Gastonia (Gaston). One at Lake Gaston (Warren) from 1-14 Jul 2019 seemed to show territorial behavior, but no other Scissor-tailed was seen; however, it associated with an Eastern Kingbird and possibly was mated with it. Peak counts: 7, at the Union nesting site, in 2001; 5, there on several other dates.
Mountains Accidental. One was photographed in Swannanoa (Buncombe) on 10 May 1984 [Chat 48:100 link].
Finding Tips Your best bet is to drive to a known nesting site. If none are available for an easy "tick", you are out of luck. It is too rare to drive around and hope to see one. Many veteran birders have gone 40-50 years in the state without finding one of their own. And, sadly, transients are seldom seen on the day after the initial sighting, disappointing many who have chased such migrants.
Attribution LeGrand[2022-04-27], LeGrand[2021-09-04], LeGrand[2019-11-04]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.
NC Breeding Season Map
Map depicts assumed breeding season abundance for the species.