Skip to Content

38 Unique Birds With Split And Forked Tails (With Photos!)

Birds’ tails vary more than their wings. Some birds, like the Lyre-tailed nightjar, can have tails eight times longer than their bodies!

Forked tails are important for birds because they help with aerial agility – the split tail shape makes the bird more agile when flying at high speeds.

While the birds are flying, if the outer feathers are two times longer than the inner feathers, forked tails will give a high lift-to-drag (LID) ratio. The LID ratio is an indication of the aerodynamic efficiency of the bird.

And when it comes to the lift-to-drag ratio, a forked tail is always better. Although a deeply forked tail is aerodynamically efficient, such divided tails are more susceptible to damage because the outer feathers are not well supported by overlapping central feathers.

When it comes to the list of birds with forked tails, it is considerable. Small birds like the barn swallow, bank swallow, brown-capped Rosy-Finch, fork-tailed flycatcher; prey birds like the swallow-tailed kite and the red kite; and other birds like the Arctic tern, fork-tailed Storm-Petrel all have split tails. 

Let’s explore the 38 most interesting birds with forked tails so you can identify them next time you meet them in the wild.

Birds With Forked Tails

Swallow-tailed Kite

swallow tailed kite
Ron Knight from Seaford, East Sussex, United KingdomCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons (edited)

Scientific name: Elanoides forficatus
Lifespan: 6 years
Wingspan: 4 ft
Tail: Deeply forked
Found In: United States

The swallow-tailed kite, also known as the American swallow-tailed kite, is a medium-sized broad-winged (pernine) species of raptors. This bird of prey has a bright-white head and underparts, while the wings, back, and tails are black.

With its long wings, deeply forked tail, and bold black-and-white plumage, the swallow-tailed kite is very easy to recognize in flight.

Because of its V-shaped tail, the 18th-century English naturalist Mark Catesby named the bird “Accipiter cauda furcata” (forked-tail hawk). They are carnivores and feed on insects, frogs, anoles, and snakes.

During the fall and winter, swallow-tailed kites are in South America; at the beginning of spring, they arrive in Florida to breed. This bird once inhabited big parts of the southeastern United States – today they are mostly found in swamps, marshes, and large rivers in Florida.

Swallow-tailed kites currently mostly inhabit seven southeastern states: Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas.

Red Kite

red kite predatory bird flying

Scientific name: Milvus milvus
Lifespan: 10 years
Wingspan: 5 ft
Tail: Deeply forked
Found In: Europe

A red kite is a medium-sized bird of prey with a characteristically long and deeply forked tail that is red above and pale below. They are the largest species of kites and have pale grey heads and yellow beaks.

Due to their split tail, red kites are very agile and can stay in the air for hours at a time.

They breed from Spain and Portugal east into central Europe and Ukraine, north to southern Sweden, Latvia, and the UK, and south to southern Italy. Just like the swallow-tailed kites, the red kites also migrate during winter.

They pair for life and during winter they might spend time apart or in communal roosts. 

Red kites are carnivores and feed on mice, voles, shrews, young hares, rabbits, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. These birds of prey with forked tails will move their tails to steer their bodies like a rudder on a boat.

Bahama Swallow

bahama swallow
Craig NashCC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons (edited)

Scientific name: Tachycineta cyaneoviridis
Lifespan: n/a
Wingspan: 15 in
Tail: Deeply forked
Found In: Bahamas

The Bahama swallow is a medium-sized swallow that has a white belly and chin, dark blue or green upper back, and steel-blue color of its wings. It is an endangered species noted for its deeply forked tail. 

When they are young, Bahama swallows are duller and have a less forked tail – they look a lot more like the juvenile Tree Swallows.

Bahama swallows are mostly found in the open fields and forests on the island of Andros in the Bahamas. They are insectivores, darting through the air to catch small flying insects.

Tree Swallow

tree swallows

Scientific name: Tachycineta bicolor
Lifespan: 3 years
Wingspan: 12-14 in
Tail: Shallowly forked
Found In: the United States and Canada

Tree swallows are small migratory songbirds with long, pointed wings and short, squared, or slightly notched tails. Their tails are not sharply forked.

Tree swallows breed in the United States and Canada – they begin migrating south in July and August to western Mexico and Central America. They are social animals with flocks of thousands of birds. Tree swallows are omnivores that feed on insects, mollusks, spiders, and occasionally on fruit, berries, and seeds.

You can see them in Florida, Tennessee, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, and similar.

Barn Swallow

barn swallow

Scientific name: Hirundo rustica
Lifespan: 4 years
Wingspan: 12.5-13.5 in
Tail: Deeply forked
Found In: Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas

The barn swallow is the most widespread species of swallow in the world. It has a blue head and wings, rusty-orange throat and forehead, and a pale orange chest and underside. Barn swallows are distinguished for their long, slender, and deeply forked tails. Males and females look similar – the female’s tail is a little less forked.

According to legend, the Barn Swallow got its forked tail because it stole fire from the gods and brought it to people. This made the gods angry so they threw a firebrand at the swallow, burning its middle tail feathers.

Check this YouTube video to see what their tails look like when sitting perched or in flight.

The barn swallow is one of the largest swallow species found in Maryland and Pennsylvania. Although rare in the states in late fall and winter, you will be able to spot it as it comes back around late March.

In early fall, this long-distance migratory bird flies from North American breeding grounds to winter in Central and South America. 

Barn swallows are insectivores that catch and eat insects in the air as they fly.

Royal Tern

royal terns

Scientific name: Thalasseus maximus
Lifespan: up to 30 years
Wingspan: 40-50 in
Tail: Moderately forked
Found In: North America, South America, West Africa

The royal tern is the second-largest tern, after the Caspian Tern. It is a sleek seabird of warm saltwater coasts, gray below, white above, with a black crest and bright orange bill. The legs are short and the tail is moderately forked.

Scientists recognize two subspecies of Royal Tern, one found in North and South America, the other in West Africa. They are medium-distance migrants – North American terns migrate to Peru, Uruguay, and Argentina.

They are carnivores, feeding on small fish, shrimp, and crustaceans. A flock of Royal Terns is known as a “highness”.

Read More: Birds with incredible-looking orange bills

Arctic Tern

arctic tern

Scientific name: Sterna paradisaea
Lifespan: 15-30 years
Wingspan: 25-30 in
Tail: Deeply forked
Found In: Antarctic, North America, Europe, and Asia

The Arctic tern is a small, slender gray-and-white bird with narrow wings, short legs, and a black cap. Its long and deeply forked tail is white with grey outer webs.

This tern is a small but mighty flier, well known for its long-distance migrations. Arctic terns migrate from pole to pole, traveling over 25,000 miles each year. They might also visit Hawaii.

They are carnivores (piscivores) and feed on small fish, crayfish, and some insects.

Fork-tailed Drongo

fork tailed drongo
Neelix at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons (edited)

Scientific name: Dicrurus adsimilis
Lifespan: 15 years
Wingspan: n/a
Tail: Deeply forked
Found In: Africa

The fork-tailed drongo, also known as the common drongo and the African drongo, is a medium-sized bird with red eyes, black plumage, and a narrow tail that splays out into a fork. That’s how they got their name.

What is interesting about these birds is that they are kleptoparasites. 

This means that most of the time, they will follow other animals, and genuinely warn them when they spot a predator. However, sometimes drongos will make false alarms when other animals find food. Those scared animals will run away and drongos will feast on their catch. They mostly rob birds like pied babblers and animals such as meerkats.

Drongos are very aggressive towards large predators who roam around their area – they will mob, harass, and peck raptors, forcing them to move out of their territory.

Common House Martin

common house martin

Scientific name: Delichon urbicum
Lifespan: 5 years
Wingspan: 11 in
Tail: Moderately forked
Found In: Africa, Europe, and Asia

The common house martin, also known as the northern house martin, is a small migratory passerine bird with a dark blue mantle and crown, gray wings and tail, and white underparts. The fork of its tail is intermediate in depth. Compared to swallows, the common martin’s tail is much shorter and lacks long streamers.

When winter comes, the common house martins migrate to sub-Saharan Africa and tropical Asia. From April to October, they stay at their breeding sites in Europe and Asia.

They are insectivores that feed on flies, aphids, and flying ants, catching them in the air.

House Sparrow

house sparrow

Scientific name: Passer domesticus
Lifespan: 3-5 years
Wingspan: 9 in
Tail: Shallowly forked
Found In: Asia, North Africa, and Europe

The house sparrow is a small brightly colored bird, with a gray head, white cheeks, a black bib, and a reddish-brown neck. The tail is very shallow, with a very small split. 

This small bird with a v-shaped tail loves baths and has its own favorite dust bath spot. It will throw soil and dust over the feathers as if it were bathing with water and often defend that spot against other birds.

House sparrows are the most widely distributed wild birds; the oldest recorded captive house sparrow lived 23 years. They feed on grains and seeds, discarded food, and insects.

House sparrows are common backyard birds of Central Texas and North Texas.

Fork-tailed flycatcher

fork tailed flycatcher
Rogier KlappeCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons (edited)

Scientific name: Tyrannus savana
Lifespan: 5-10 years
Wingspan: 6-15 in
Tail: Deeply forked
Found In: Mexico and Argentina

The fork-tailed flycatcher is a passerine bird with a black cap, white color below, and gray above. It got its name for the distinguishingly long, forked tail. It is a bird with one of the longest tails on the North American continent.

Fork-tailed flycatchers are some of the fastest birds, reaching speeds of 65 mph. What gives them an edge in flight and allows them to make sharp twists and turns in the air are their long tail feathers.

Most of them are migratory birds, but some stay the entire year, especially those in southern Mexico. Those that do, migrate two times a year.

Pacific Swift

pacific swift
OzmaCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons (edited)

Scientific name: Apus pacificus
Lifespan: n/a
Wingspan: 17-21 in
Tail: Deeply forked
Found In: Australia and Asia

The Pacific swift, also known as a fork-tailed Swift, is a highly aerial bird with pointed wings, dark plumage, and a deeply forked tail. Swifts, just like martins, have similar-looking tails. The pacific swift will sometimes hold its tail folded. That way, the fork disappears and resembles a long spike. 

They are insectivores and feed on termites, moths, wasps, bees, and flies. They are migratory species that fly to southeast Asia and Australia. Pacific swifts are rather small black birds with split tails that will spend most of their time in the air, rarely getting down to the ground.

Gilded Flicker

female gilded flicker

Scientific name: Colaptes chrysoides
Lifespan: n/a
Wingspan: 18 in
Tail: Shallowly forked
Found In: California, Arizona, and southwestern Mexico

The gilded flicker is a large-sized woodpecker with a large black crescent on the chest, dots on the breast, a barred back, and a brownish crown. It is yellow under the tail and wings and has a shallowly forked tail. They are quite similar to Northern flickers who have red color under their tails (like the one in the photo).

Gilded flickers are residents or short-distance migrants – they move from the northern parts to the southern U.S. in winter.

Ashy Storm-Petrel

ashy storm petrel
Pacific Southwest Region USFWS from Sacramento, US, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons (edited)

Scientific name: Oceanodroma homochroa
Lifespan: 25 years
Wingspan: 18 in
Tail: Shallowly forked
Found In: California

Ashy Storm-petrel is a small seabird with a long and forked tail. Its body has a light gray color, while the wings have dark and light gray patterns.

They are migratory birds and can live a long life – up to 34 years! Ashy storm petrels mate in the same pair with the same mate for many years and nest at the same burrow.

Great Frigatebird

great frigatebird

Scientific name: Fregata minor
Lifespan: 30-34 years
Wingspan: 80-90 in
Tail: Deeply forked
Found In: Coasts of America, the Caribbean Sea, and Cape Verde

The great frigatebird is a large seabird with black plumage, long, slender wings, and a deeply forked tail. The tail may appear pointed when folded. Male great frigatebirds are smaller than females.

They will often steal fish and other food from other seabirds. Great frigatebirds are migratory.

Male frigatebirds belong to a group of birds with red necks because of the inflatable throat pouches they use to seduce females during the breeding season.

Pin-tailed Whydah

pin-tailed whydah
Charles J. SharpCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons (edited)

Scientific name: Vidua macroura
Lifespan: 12 years
Wingspan: n/a
Tail: Deeply forked
Found In: Sub-Saharan Africa and Puerto Rico

Pin-tailed whydah is a small songbird with a red bill and black back and crown. Breeding males have long and conspicuous pennant-like tails. As winter approaches, males will lose their bright colors and long tails.

They are brood parasite species – they lay their eggs in the nests of birds of another species and give no parental care to the eggs.

Lilac-breasted Roller

lilac breasted roller

Scientific name: Coracias caudatus
Lifespan: 10 years
Wingspan: 20-23 in
Tail: Deeply forked
Found In: Eastern and Southern Africa

The lilac-breasted roller is a beautifully colored African bird famous for its acrobatic aerial displays during the breeding season. Its breast is lilac, the underside is turquoise, and the top part of the wings is reddish-brown. The tail is deeply forked, turquoise, and ends in thin black streamers.

These birds mate for life and both males and females share their parental duty. 

Read More: Black Colored Birds With White Patches

Sabine’s Gull

sabine's gull
Ron KnightCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons (edited)

Scientific name: Xema sabini
Lifespan: 8 years
Wingspan: 33-36 in
Tail: Shallowly forked
Found In: North America, Arctic, north-western coast of Africa, and Greenland

Sabine’s gull, also known as the fork-tailed gull, is a small bird with a gray head, a black edge around it, and a black bill with a yellow tip. It has long, pointed wings and a shallowly forked tail. 

American Goldfinch

american goldfinch

Scientific name: Spinus tristis
Lifespan: 3-6 years
Wingspan: 7.5-8.7 in
Tail: Shallowly forked
Found In: North America

The American goldfinch is a small migratory bird with a small head, short, slightly notched tail, and long wings with a single broad white wing stripe. 

Male and female American goldfinches have a colorful carotenoid-based orange bill during the breeding season; the bill serves as an indicator of the overall health of the bird. The more saturated with orange a bill is, the higher the testosterone levels are in that specific bird.

This is helpful as it can reduce the chance of a physical battle, risk of injury, and loss of time and energy.

American goldfinches molt twice a year, once in late winter and again in late summer. They are the state bird of New Jersey, Iowa, and Washington.

Purple Martin

purple martin

Scientific name: Progne subis
Lifespan: 5-7 years
Wingspan: 15 in
Tail: Shallowly forked
Native to: North America

Purple Martin is the largest swallow in North America. It has a slightly hooked bill, a short and forked tail, and long, tapered wings.

Adult males are dark overall with a purplish-blue shimmer visible at close range. Depending on the light and angle, their head color may appear to be royal blue, navy blue, deep purple, or even green.

Females are grayer with shine on the crown and back.

Purple martins will typically build their nests out of straw, twigs, and pine needles. They are very social and colonial birds – the largest roosting colony ever discovered had over 700,000 birds!

Purple martins are carnivores (insectivores) that feed on fire ants, bugs, flies, butterflies, dragonflies, grasshoppers, crickets, moths, wasps, bees, cicadas, spiders, and termites.

They are also excellent fliers that can reach flight speeds of over 40 mph.

Green-crowned Woodnymph

green crowned woodnymph
Michael WoodruffCC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons (edited)

Scientific name: Thalurania fannyi
Lifespan: n/a
Wingspan: n/a
Tail: Deeply forked
Found In: South America

This South American hummingbird can be found in evergreen forests and the edge of tropical lowlands, often near streams. 

The male Green-crowned woodnymph has a green plumage above with an iridescent green head, throat, and breast. The underparts are deep iridescent blue and the tail is dark blue and deeply forked.

These birds found in Belize and Guatemala to northern Peru, mostly feed on nectar taken from a variety of brightly colored, scented small flowers of trees, herbs, shrubs, and epiphytes.

Green-crowned woodnymphs are polygynous and a male may mate with several females; the female will do the same with several males. Males will not participate in choosing the nest location, building the nest, or raising the chicks.

Read More: List of green-colored small birds

Fork-tailed Storm Petrel

fork-tailed storm petrel
Stanley, Carla, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons (edited)

Scientific name: Oceanodroma furcata
Lifespan: up to 25 years
Wingspan: 18.1 in
Tail: Deeply forked
Found In: North America and Asia

This beautiful silvery-blue seabird spends most of its life over the cold waters of the open North Pacific Ocean. The fork-tailed storm petrel is the second-most widespread species of storm petrel and can be found throughout northern California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, Alaska, and northeast Asia.

Just like other storm petrels, this species will fly close to the surface of the water and when it spots a fish or a crustacean, the fork-tailed storm petrel will dip down and seize prey with its bill. It is among the rare birds that use the sense of smell to locate food.

Fork-tailed storm petrel has a deeply forked tail that is best visible during the flight when the long and split tail makes the bird look even more stunning.

Fork-tailed storm petrel keeps oil in its stomach that is used to scare away predators or to feed chicks. It has one of the largest eggs relative to body size – a female fork-tailed storm petrel lays an egg that is around 20% of its total body weight.

Black-headed Bunting

black headed bunting

Scientific name: Emberiza melanocephala
Lifespan: up to 11 years in the wild
Wingspan: n/a
Tail: Shallowly forked
Found In: Europe and Asia

Black-headed bunting is a stocky bunting that breeds in open scrubby areas. It has a long, slightly forked, brown-gray tail and a rather long bill.

Males have bright yellow underparts, chestnut upperparts, and black heads. Females are much paler with gray-brown backs and grayish heads.

When the winter comes, these black-headed buntings head out to Asia, sometimes crossing over 4,300 miles. They can be often found in flocks as they forage on grasslands looking for seeds and insects.

Black-chinned Hummingbird

black chinned hummingbird

Scientific name: Archilochus alexandri
Lifespan: up to 10 years
Wingspan: 1.5-1.9 in
Tail: Shallowly forked
Found In: North America

The black-chinned hummingbird is a small migratory hummingbird with metallic green upperparts and white underparts. It has a long slender beak and a dark forked tail. Males have black faces and chins and glossy purple throat bands.

When the cold weather comes, the black-chinned hummingbird may consume almost three times its body weight in nectar in a single day.

These birds can be found in mountains, woodlands, orchards, and meadows of the western United States, reaching north into Canada in Alberta and British Columbia, east to Oklahoma, and as far south as Mexico.

Read More: 5 beautiful species of loons in Canada

Black-chinned hummingbirds are omnivores that feed on insects and nectar.

As part of their courting rituals, males will make broad U-shaped dives 60-100 feet past a perched female. However, outside the breeding season, they are mostly solitary birds.

Sandwich Tern

sandwich tern

Scientific name: Thalasseus sandvicensis
Lifespan: 18-22 years
Wingspan: 33-38 in
Tail: Deeply forked
Found In: Europe, Asia, Africa, South, and North America

This medium-sized tern has a thin yellow-tipped black beak, long, pointed wings, and a medium-long tail that is deeply split.

Sandwich ten is easy to recognize by its grey upperparts, white underparts, and shaggy black crest. Both sexes look similar.

It is a very vocal bird that feeds by plunge-diving into the water for fish and then offering it to the female as part of the courtship display.

Sandwich tern got its peculiar name from the town Sandwich in the United Kingdom, where the ornithologist who first described the bird in 1787 just happened to live.

Sandwich tern is a carnivore that mostly eats smaller fish, shrimp, squid, marine worms, and many insects.

Couch’s kingbird

couch's kingbird

Scientific name: Tyrannus couchii
Lifespan: n/a
Wingspan: 16 in
Tail: Shallowly forked
Found In: North and Central America

Couch’s kingbird is a large flycatcher that can be found around woodland edges and near ponds and rivers in southern Texas during the summer.

This yellow-breasted bird has a pale gray head, whitish throat, and gray-brown upperparts. It also has a dark beak, legs, and a slightly forked tail.

Couch’s kingbird got its name after the soldier and naturalist Darius N. Couch. It looks very similar to a tropical kingbird and until the 1960s the two were considered to be the same species.

Couch’s kingbird is an omnivore that feeds on small berries, seeds, and larger insects like beetles, grasshoppers, wasps, and large flies.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

ruby-throated hummingbird

Scientific nameArchilochus colubris
Lifespan: 3-5 years
Wingspan: 3.1-4.3 in
Tail: Moderately forked
Found In: North and Central America

The ruby-throated hummingbird is one of the most common hummingbirds found throughout the eastern parts of the United States and Canada.

The species is sexually dimorphic which means that there is a distinct difference between males and females. 

You will identify males by the metallic emerald green upperparts, grayish-white underparts, black wings, and a gorget (throat patch) of iridescent ruby red. Male ruby-throated hummingbirds have moderately forked tails. 

Females are larger than males, have slightly shorter beaks, and have white throats. 

Ruby-throated hummingbirds move very quickly, around 25 mph, and will beat their wing over 50 times per second.

They only have about 940 feathers on average which is the smallest number of any bird.

These birds are mostly solitary, except during the breeding season which lasts a few days.

To attract these hummingbirds with red necks to your backyard, you can set up hummingbird feeders or plant tubular flowers. They are quite bold and might even feed at hanging plants and feeders on your porch or next to your windows!

White Tern

white terns

Scientific nameGygis alba
Lifespan: up to 42 years
Wingspan: 30–34 in
Tail: Shallowly forked
Found In: North America, Central America, Australia, and Asia

This small seabird, also known as the white fairy tern, has entirely white plumage, a slightly forked tail, and a black bill with a blue base.

White tern is native to Hawaii and goes by the name manu-o-Kū there. This translates to “the bird of Ku.” Ku is the god of war in Hawaiian mythology.

It likes to nest on coral islands, around trees with small branches, rocky ledges, and man-made structures.

White tern is a carnivore that feeds on squids and small fish which it catches by plunge-diving.

In the past, sailors would look for white terns to navigate them towards the land – white fairy terns will fly out to sea in the morning to feed and then return to land at night.

The white tern is the official bird of Honolulu since 2007.

Read More: 18+ examples of beautiful white birds of Hawaii

Buff-bellied Hummingbird

buff-bellied hummingbird
HarmonyonPlanetEarthCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons (cropped)

Scientific nameAmazilia yucatanensis
Lifespan: up to 11 years
Wingspan: 5.75 in
Tail: Shallowly forked
Found In: USA and Mexico

Buff-bellied hummingbirds are rare vagrant visitors along the Gulf Coast that can be seen during fall and winter in the Florida panhandle (West Florida).

These medium-sized birds are easy to identify by their metallic olive green colors, red bills, orange and slightly forked tails, and buffy patches on their bellies. They also have metallic golden-green throats.

Look for them around hummingbird feeders, where they use their size advantage to chase off smaller hummingbirds. Their diet includes mostly nectar and insects.

Buff-bellied hummingbirds are partially migratory and prefer pine-oak forests, semi-arid scrub, and thickets along watercourses. 

Females will build their nests in shrubs and trees to protect the eggs and both males and females will ferociously defend feeding locations within their territories. Females lay two white eggs.

Caspian Tern

caspian tern
Savithri Singh, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons (edited)

Scientific nameHydroprogne caspia
Lifespan: 12 years
Wingspan: 50–57 in
Tail: Shallowly forked
Found In: Widespread

Found on almost every continent, the Caspian tern is the largest tern in the world. It is easy to recognize by its large head, coral red beak, shallowly split tail, and deep, raspy call. Caspian tern has white color overall with pale gray upperwings.  

This large bird got its name from the early associations with the Caspian Sea where Caspian terns are still fairly common.

Caspian terns are very aggressive when defending their breeding colony. They will pursue, attack, and chase away potential predatory birds, and even bite people on the heads if they invade their space.

Caspian terns will hover high over the water, scanning for fish. When they spot one, they will fly down rapidly and dive to catch it. They also occasionally feed on large insects, the young and eggs of other birds, and some rodents.

Magnificent Frigatebird

juvenile magnificent frigatebird

Scientific nameFregata magnificens
Lifespan: 14-30 years
Wingspan: 85.4-96 in
Tail: Deeply forked
Found In: North, Central, and South America, Europe, and Africa

Rightfully named due to their striking appearance and behavior, magnificent frigatebirds are easily recognizable even at long distances.

They have a huge size, long pointed wings, and long deeply forked tails. Males have a striking red gular sac which they inflate to attract slightly larger females.

In North America, magnificent frigatebirds are most commonly found in Florida.

Magnificent frigatebirds will sometimes steal fish from other animals by harassing and forcing them to regurgitate their meal. They will then delicately swoop down, catching this regurgitation before it hits the water. This is known as kleptoparasitism.

Despite their massive wingspan of 7 to 8 feet, these birds can’t land on water as their feathers aren’t waterproof and they would most likely drown.

Anna’s Hummingbird

anna's hummingbird

Scientific nameCalypte anna
Lifespan: 8.5 years
Wingspan: 4.7 in
Tail: Shallowly forked
Found In: North America

These small birds with split tails are named after Anna Masséna, the Duchess of Rivoli.

Anna’s hummingbirds are medium-sized and stocky hummingbirds with straight, shortish beaks, and fairly broad and forked tails in males.

You will identify them by their iridescent bronze-green backs, pale grey chests and bellies, and green flanks. Males have iridescent reddish-pink heads and gorgets that extend to the sides of the neck and throat. Females are grayish and have green heads with a small amount of red on their throats.

Using their long tongues, Anna’s hummingbirds feed on flower nectar. They also eat some small insects they catch mid-flight.

In the early 20th century, Anna’s hummingbirds only breed in northern Baja California and southern California. They have expanded their breeding range since. 

Scientists estimate that Anna’s hummingbirds have a population of around 1.5 million individuals.

Lesser Nighthawk

lesser nighthawk

Scientific nameChordeiles acutipennis
Lifespan: 4-5 years
Wingspan: 21.5 in
Tail: Deeply forked
Found In: Central, North, and South America

Lesser nighthawks are small nighthawks that have rounded wings and fairly long notched tails. They can be often seen flying low over deserts and grasslands at dusk.

Lesser nighthawks are camouflaged by their “earthy” colored plumage and only in flight, can you see their distinctive bar across the wingtips. This stripe is white in males and cream-colored in females. 

The Lesser nighthawk looks similar to the common nighthawk – the best way to distinguish them is by the position of the white wing patch: it is closer to the wingtip on the lesser and closer to the base of the wing on the common nighthawk.

Lesser nighthawks are known for their erratic, bat-like flying technique, graceful loops, and frequent direction changes during flight.

These birds breed across Northern and Central California, Nevada, and southwestern Utah south across New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas, and into Mexico. 

Females will not make nests but lay eggs directly on the ground, using their camouflaged bodies to keep the eggs hidden. These birds are insectivores, feeding on flying insects, including beetles, moths, grasshoppers, but also ants, and termites.

To deal with the desert heat in their habitats, lesser nighthawks might enter torpor – a hibernation-like state.

Chipping Sparrow

white eyebrows on a chipping sparrow

Scientific nameSpizella passerina
Lifespan: up to 9 years
Wingspan: 8-9 in
Tail: Shallowly forked
Found In: North America

The chipping sparrow is a small passerine bird common in gardens of North America. It has dusky eyebrows and dark eye-lines; during the breeding season, the lines above each eye become nearly white.

Chipping sparrows are delicate and active sparrows with slightly notched tails. During the breeding season, they have a distinctive bright chestnut crown. These small birds with forked tails aren’t the best at constructing nests – in many cases, light can be seen through which suggests that the nests provide little insulation for the eggs.

There are two subspecies, the eastern chipping sparrow and the western chipping sparrow.

House Finch

house finch

Scientific nameHaemorhous mexicanus
Lifespan: up to 11 years
Wingspan: 8-10 in
Tail: Shallowly forked
Found In: North America

House finch is a widespread backyard bird found year-round in most habitats of North America. It has a conical bill, short wings, and a shallowly notched tail.

Males have brown plumage, streaked underparts, reddish breasts, heads, eyebrows, and rumps while females are brown above and streaked below.

The red color of the male house finches comes from the berries and fruits in their diet – females prefer to mate with males that have the reddest faces.

Depending on the location, house finches have different “accents” while singing. Californian house finches have two-second songs with 4-26 syllables; the songs of the ones from Wisconsin and Colorado can last longer and contain more syllables.

Some estimates claim that there are anywhere from 267 million to 1.7 billion individuals across the continent.

Carolina Chickadee

carolina chickadee

Scientific namePoecile carolinensis
Lifespan: up to 10 years
Wingspan: 6-8 in
Tail: Shallowly forked
Found In: North America

Carolina chickadees are small birds with distinctive black caps and bibs, dull white cheeks, gray backs, and white underparts. Their beaks are dark and short, their wings are short, and their tails are moderately long and shallowly forked.

When the weather gets very cold, Carolina chickadees might enter torpor – a state of sleep where they lower their body temperature, breathing rate, heart rate, and metabolic rate to survive the winter months.

Varied Bunting

Colorful Varied Bunting
Varied Bunting | Source: ALAN SCHMIERER from near Patagonia, AZ, USA, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Scientific namePasserina versicolor
Lifespan: n/a
Wingspan: 8.3 in
Tail: Shallowly forked
Found In: North America

Although they might seem dull and dark from distance, varied buntings have a spectacular color pattern up close.

Males are deep red above and below and have red napes, violet-blue faces, rumps, and shoulders, and red arcs behind the eyes. On the other hand, females are pretty plain with their light brown plumage.

These tiny songbirds also have shallowly forked tails and short, conical beaks.

Although not too many songbirds have eggs of different colors, this is not the case with varied buntings – these colorful birds will have either green or blue eggs.

Purple Finch

purple finch

Scientific nameHaemorhous purpureus
Lifespan: 3-4 years
Wingspan: 9.8 in
Tail: Shallowly forked
Found In: North America

Despite the name, purple finches aren’t purple. Males have pink-reddish heads, breasts, backs, rumps, and streaked backs. Females are light brown above and white below and have a white line on the face above the eye.

These small birds also have short forked brown tails and brown wings.

Final Thoughts

This concludes our list of birds with forked tails. 

There are plenty of bird species with forked (split) tails including Kites, Terns, Storm-Petrels, Swallows, and others. Some of them have a very distinct v-shape of their tails, while others have less prominent ones.

Read more: Animals that very much resemble meerkats

    Skip to content