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Dec. 20, 2012

Rare tropical bird spotted in Austin

The fork-tailed flycatcher, native to Central and South America, was spotted by birder Shelia Hargis Saturday near McKinney Falls State Park during Travis County Audubon’s annual Christmas Bird Count.

Texas Parks and Wildlife biologist Mark Klym attributes the bird sighting so far North as a product of a confused migration path.

 “The fork-tailed flycatcher usually comes from Argentina to Mexico at this time of year,” Klym said. “Every once and a while one of them seems to overfly that northbound migration and end up in Texas.”

Females are usually around 12 inches and males are larger at around 15 inches long. Though the bird is around a foot long it only weighs about an ounce making it ideal for gliding through thousands of miles of airspace.

On Monday it was reported there were two fork-tailed flycatchers in the area, yet upon inspection of the image it was determined to be the flycatcher sitting with one of its relatives, the scissor-tailed flycatcher.

 “We have so many people coming from all over Texas and the U.S. to see this bird,” said park ranger Amber Conrad. “This bird is relatively small, it’s like a little cotton ball with some black string hanging off of it for its head and its tail.”

Interest in the bird has brought visitors out in droves to the park with high-powered binoculars and professional video and photography equipment to capture the rare traveler. Groups of photographers seem to resemble the paparazzi as they work to get the perfect shot of the rare birds.

 “A lot of people think it’s funny, and I do to sometimes, that people have this kind of obsession about seeing birds,” said Austin birder Chris Layten. “For me, it’s getting the chance to be out and to have a more intimate connection with the natural world.”

Layten and other birders flocked to the park and the surrounding area upon hearing of the flycatcher sighting. State birders have only documented 25 sightings of the fork-tailed flycatcher in Texas over the past 150 years, making this week’s discovery sensational to bird enthusiasts across the nation.

McKinney Falls will have a special program at the Smith Visitor Center at 10 a.m. Dec. 22 showcasing the bird with wildlife viewing from the center’s scenic overlook. This program is free and open to the public after park admission.

For more information and to get involved in birding visit

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