Fork-Tailed Flycatchers Head North for the (Austral) Winter

October 16, 2012
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Many of us living in the United States — especially in the central states of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas — are very familiar with a long-tailed bird called a scissor-tailed flycatcher. They are often observed on fences, light posts and other exposed places where they scan the air for flying insects, upon which they feed. In the Southern Hemisphere, there is a counterpart of the scissor-tailed flycatcher called a fork-tailed flycatcher. Amazingly, this species has even longer tail feathers — so long that it is a wonder that these birds can even fly!

These marvelous birds are found in the Peruvian Amazon from February through April and again from August through October. What the two very different times of year? Fork-tailed flycatchers are Austral migrants. This means they migrate from their nesting areas in Southern South America, mainly Argentina, and they migrate North for the Austral (Southern Hemisphere) winter.

The fork-tailed flycatcher may be seen in very large flocks, and they feed on flying insects as well as some fruits and berries. I have seen hundreds of fork-tails in a flock and once perched and in good binocular view, they are extremely beautiful creatures. The males have longer tails than the females and the male; tail included may be 15 inches long. They have a dark black face and moderately heavy dark beak, an immaculate white throat, breast and belly, grayish back and a very, very long forked-tail. The tail is black with white outer edges.

Many people think only of birds migrating south from North America during our winter months. Many of these birds find favorable conditions in the Amazon Basin during the months from December through February. We tend to forget that during our North American summer, it is winter in the Southern Hemisphere and many birds migrate north to more favorable conditions…again into the Amazon Basin between June and August. It is for these reasons that such a tremendous number of bird species have been documented by guests on International Expeditions’ Amazon River cruises. Not only resident birds but migrants from both hemispheres spend time in this region. The lovely fork-tailed flycatcher is just one of those migrant species.


Naturalist Greg Greer is a favorite among IE travelers, and has gained a reputation for his friendliness and good humor, along with his incomparable knowledge of natural history, photos and articles have been widely published in books and magazines, including Georgia Outdoor News, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Alabama Outdoor News, Riversedge and Southern Wildlife.