Birds help control insects
By Ray Ridlen
The scissor-tailed flycatcher, the Oklahoma state bird, a long-tailed insect-eating bird closely related to the kingbird, is one of many birds that help control insects in the environment. Adult birds have grey upper parts, light underparts with pinkish flanks, dark wings and an extremely long black tail. Insects are their main source of food, but they will also eat some berries.
The Northern Oriole perhaps is best known for its hanging, basket-like nest. The female constructs the intricately woven nest on the end of a tall tree branch. Orioles inhabit deciduous woodlands of elm and cottonwood along streams and around towns and farms. Caterpillars, beetles and other tree-dwelling insects comprise most of the orioles’ diet, but they also eat small fruits and nectar of some flowers. The oriole is well known for the male’s fiery orange and black plumage. Females have an orange-yellow breast and olive-brown back and wings.
In flight, a distinctive white bar can be seen on the underside of each wing of the mottled brown Common Nighthawk. Their name is derived from their feeding behavior in which they “hawk” (catch in mid-air) night-flying insects such as moths and beetles. They are closely related to whippoorwills and Chuck-will’s widows. Nighthawks do not build a conventional nest, they scrape a shallow depression in the ground for two speckled brown eggs that both adults incubate, and camouflage if they leave the nest.
Scarlet tanagers are found in large tracts of mature oak and hickory forests in the eastern fifth of Oklahoma. Males are a brilliant scarlet-red with black wings and tail feathers. Females are a soft yellowish-green with slightly darker wings and tail. Tanagers spend most of their time in tree canopies searching for insects, but will eat small fruits when available, especially on their wintering grounds in forests of Venezuela and northern Brazil.
Cliff swallows nest in colonies throughout Oklahoma where each pair constructs an oven-shaped nest of mud on the side of a cliff, under a bridge or building eaves. They are most common in Oklahoma’s western and central counties. Their diet is made up of small flying insects. Distinguished by its long pointed wings, square tail, orange rump patch and buff-colored forehead, cliff swallows have one of the longest migration routes, traveling to southern Brazil and Argentina for the winter.
The small black-capped vireo, once common in western and central Oklahoma, with only a few hundred remaining today, mostly in the scrub oak-covered hillsides of the Wichita Mountains. Males have a black cap and neck. The female’s cap is gray, both have white speckles and yellowish sides. They mostly eat caterpillars and other insects. The vireo’s nest is a small hanging cup of grass, lichen and spider webs, suspended from a shrub’s branch two to five feet above the ground.