Published On: Wed, Jan 8th, 2014

BACKYARD BIRDING IN MERIDA YUCATAN AND BEYOND – ANOTHER GIFT, FOR YOU AND ME: THE SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER

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Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Tyrannus forficatus, Tirano-tijereta Rosado (Spanish)

Three years ago on Christmas, a neighbor felled a 60 foot tree which crashed across two properties as the fragile tree top succumbed to its demise in our pool. *That leafless tree, I called the “Barreness”, offered homes, perches, food, and a look-out tower to local and migrating birds. It helped me uncover many bird species in Merida’s Centro.

Last year at New Year’s, a **Keel-billed Toucan appeared in my backyard view. What an unexpected surprise!

I couldn’t help but wonder what December, 2013 would share. And Mother Nature did come through, but not in my backyard.

When I look out our front door across the street, I see two Royal Palm sentinels looming above one of Merida’s first sixteenth century country homes. Those palms bear fruit and insects; many birds enjoy the “fruits of their labor”.

For most of the year, a group of tyrants, Couch’s Kingbirds and sometimes Tropical Kingbirds, also stand guard to keep other birds and each other away from the ripened fruit. These terrorists belong to the appropriately named family, tyrant flycatchers. I hear them frequently from our upstairs bedroom window.

On December 8, I woke up and looked out to see three Couch’s Kingbirds perched on a utility line and caught a flash of a bird with a longer tail flying toward them. I quickly grabbed my camera, went out on the roof in my nightgown, crouched under a ledge to hide, and stabilized my camera on my propped up knees to shoot this new species in the Yucatan for me to add to my “backyard” bird list.

Two Couch's Kingbirds alight near a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.

Two Couch’s Kingbirds alight near a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.

In my front-of-the-house view. I recognized this bird with the beautiful forked tail-feathers as a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. I’d seen my first one in Florida. Along with that Florida population, it mainly lives in the US in Oklahoma and Texas . Although it ranges down to Panama, it’s a winter visitor in the peninsula. However, this is the first reported sighting in Merida. A two-for-one amazing gift!

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, first reported sighting in Merida, Yucatan

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, first reported sighting in Merida, Yucatan

Tropical Mockingbirds, Great-tailed Grackles, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, and the kingbirds kept flying to the palm to garner its bounty. For a few minutes, the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher flew to the palm, snatched a fruit, and returned to its electrified perch. I watched as it repeatedly cleaned its bill after eating. How different to see that this insect eater supplemented its insect diet with fruit.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher eats berries and palm fruit in addition to insects.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher eats berries and palm fruit in addition to insects.

After eating fruit, the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher wipes its bill to clean it.

After eating fruit, the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher wipes its bill to clean it.

The exposed blush of salmon feathers under its wings and along its body became sweet-lived moments as this elegant bird flew from perch to palm several times.

Elegant bird in flight

Elegant bird in flight, the scissor tailed flycatcher.

For a while, the kingbirds appeared somewhat tolerant of this intruder in their kingdom or king-bird-dom. Then these bad-to-the-bone bullies began chasing their long-tailed cousin. Both the Couch’s Kingbird and the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher share the genus name, Tyrannus. I have renamed this kingbird, T. wrecks. Keep reading.

Each time the scissor-tail flew away, I hoped for its return. Be patient. Wait. Wait. Wow, I saw TWO Scissor-tailed Flycatchers.

Oops, one left immediately due to the kingbird assaults.

Oh, sorrow.

As one kingbird dive-bombed on the remaining scissor-tail, another kingbird screamed. Note the threat displays of fluffed up crests on the bomber and bombee.

One Couch's Kingbird screams as the other threatens the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.

One Couch’s Kingbird screams as the other threatens the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.

Aerial harassment continues

Aerial harassment continues

Couch's Kingbird gets closer to the Scissor-tail Flycatcher.

Couch’s Kingbird gets closer to the Scissor-tail Flycatcher.

The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher doesn't fly and maintains a threat with open mouth

The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher doesn’t fly and maintains a threat with open mouth

During that air raid, the scissor-tail stood its ground and the kingbird quit.  However, every scissor-tail approach to the palm intensified aggression from the dominators.

It flew to another street and tried to fly from another direction toward the palm. Still tormented.

It returned to my “front yard” view. Harassment continued. After several more attacks, it disappeared. I’ve not seen any more Scissor-tailed Flycatchers in Merida, but was grateful to observe these species’ interactions.

As I surveyed my “backyard” list, the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher became the 53rd species at my Merida Centro home. Yep, 53 species and still counting!

Friends are amazed at that number of bird species within this city of a million people. Some birds are residents and live in this neighborhood. Many were migrants who perched in that 60 footer before it was cut down. As I reflect on the loss of that tree, I realized that action became a gift. It inspired me to write a story called “My Tree of Sanity” and I approached the former owners of The Yucatan Times to offer a weekly column about my backyard bird observations. My philosophy is we all need nature for a balanced life. Birds are my method to get peoples’ attention first and then allow them to discover the joys of nature, in this city and beyond.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

My gift for 2014 to you is to continue this punned journey about birds of the Yucatan, for better or verse.

May you have an amazing, grateful 2014, indoors, and outdoors!

* My first story in The Yucatan Times: http://www.theyucatantimes.com/2012/10/backyard-birds-in-merida-and-beyond/

**Keel-billed Toucan story: http://www.theyucatantimes.com/2013/01/backyard-birding-in-merida-and-beyond-a-different-new-years-celebration/

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  1. says:

    Thanks for your comments; glad you appreciated the article.

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