A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from November 10, 2007
Texas Bird of Paradise (Flycatcher; Road-Runner or Roadrunner; Paisano; Clown of the Desert)

"Texas bird of paradise” can mean several things. Since at least 1859, the “Texas bird of paradise” has meant bird also known as the scissor-tailed flycatcher. This is usually what is meant when “Texas Bird of Paradise” is referred to today.

The “roadrunner” (cited in print from 1856) or “chaparral bird” is often called the “paisano” (cited in print from 1844 or 1853) in Texas. This bird—in the genus Geococcyx of the cuckoo family—has been called the “clown of the desert” since 1928. By at least 1932, the “roadrunner” was also referred to as the “Texas bird of paradise.”

In the 1950s, a plant also called the “Texas bird of paradise” appeared in print in Brownsville and San Antonio newspapers.


Wikipedia: Tyrant flycatcher
The tyrant flycatchers are a family of passerine birds which occur throughout North and South America, but are mainly tropical in distribution. They are now considered the largest family of birds on earth, with over 400 species. Tyrant flycatchers superficially resemble the Old World flycatchers, but have a tendency to be more robust with stronger bills. They are members of suborder Tyranni (suboscines) that do not have the sophisticated vocal capabilities of the songbirds.

Wikipedia: Geococcyx
The roadrunners are two species of bird in the genus Geococcyx of the cuckoo family, Cuculidae, native to North and Central America. These two species are the ground foraging cuckoos.
. Greater Roadrunner, Geococcyx californianus (southwestern United States)
. Conkling’s Roadrunner, Geococcyx californianus conklingi - prehistoric
. Lesser Roadrunner, Geococcyx velox (Mexico and Central America)
Morphology
Roadrunner species generally range in size from 18-24 inches in length from tail to beak. The roadrunner is large, slender, black-brown and white streaked ground bird with a distinctive head crest. It has long legs, strong feet, and an oversized dark bill. The tail is broad with white tips on the 3 outer tail feathers. They have a blank patch of skin behind the eye that is shaded blue proximally to red distally. The lesser roadrunner is slightly smaller, not as streaky, and has a smaller bill. They are large long-legged birds with long thick dark bills and long dark tails. They are terrestrial, and although capable of flight, they spend most of their time on the ground. During flight the wings are short and rounded and reveal a white crescent in the primary feathers. Roadrunners and other members of the cuckoo family have zygodactyl feet (two toes in front and two toes in back). Roadrunners are able to run up to 15 miles per hour and generally prefer sprinting to flying.

(Oxford English Dictionary)
road-runner, U.S., the paisano or chaparral cock;
1856 Hutching’s Mag. Nov. 201/2 The *Road-Runner is seldom seen in trees, unless pursued very closely.
1872 COUES N. American Birds 189 Ground Cuckoo. Chaparral Cock. Road Runner.
1885 Harper’s Mag. Feb. 423/1 This bird is called scientifically the Geococcyx Californianus, but is popularly known under several other names, such as road-runner.
1930 R. MACAULAY Staying with Relations xix. 275 Not a thing to look at, on this so-called road, only cactus and chaparral and road-runners and those darned flowering aloes.
1972 G. DURRELL Catch me a Colobus ix. 188 A Road-runnera strange little bird with a crest and a long tail and enormous flat feet.

(Dictionary of American Regional English)
roadrunner n
also roadrunner bird:
A large ground cuckoo of the desert Southwest (Ceococcyx californianus).
Also called Arizona peacock, California peacock, chachalaca, chaparral cock, cock of the desert, ground cuckoo, lizard bird, medicine bird, Mexican peafowl, paisano, prairie cock, rattlesnake killer, snake killer, Texas bird-of-paradise, war-bird
1856 Hutchings’ CA Mag. Nov. 201, The Road-Runner is seldom seen on trees, unless pursued very closely.
1897 Oologist 14.68 CA, Another of our more common birds is the Road-runner (Geozozzyx californianus) or Paisano as the Mexicans call it.
1926 TX Folk. Soc. Pub. 5.88, As crazy as a paisano (road-runner or chaparral bird).
1940 Writers’ Program Guide TX 28, The road runner or ground cuckoo...is the clown of the highways. With plumage comically ruffled, this large long-legged bird runs swiftly along the ground instead of flying and tries to race ahead of automobiles.

(Oxford English Dictionary)
paisano, n.
In Mexico and the south-western United States: the roadrunner (genus Geococcyx).
[1844 J. GREGG Commerce of Prairies I. 195 There is to be found in Chihuahua and other southern districts a very beautiful bird called paisano (literally ‘countryman’), which, when domesticated, performs all the offices of a cat in ridding the dwelling-houses of mice and other vermin.] 1
853 S. W. WOODHOUSE in Rep. Exped. Zuni & Colorado Rivers (U.S. Army Corps Topogr. Engineers) 92 Geococcyx Mexicanus, Gmel.The Paisano or Chaparral Cock.
1885 Harper’s Mag. Feb. 423/2 The paisano..deserves..kindness from man.
1930 F. WOODHULL in J. F. Dobie Man, Bird & Beast (1965) 24 While the rest of us were eating fried chicken the boy ate fried paisano.
1947 R. BEDICHEK Adventures with Texas Naturalist (1984) 282, I prefer the name paisano because it is euphonious and because often in the lonely desert, where company is scarce, this large and lovely bird will travel along with you for miles, staying only a few yards ahead.
1994 R. HENDRICKSON Happy Trails 175 Paisano… The roadrunner bird, often domesticated by Mexicans to rid homes of mice.

(Dictionary of American Regional English)
paisano n [Span]
also Mexican paisano: =roadrunner.
[MexSpan; prob folk-etym for faisan pheasant]
[1844 (1954) Gregg Commerce 138, There is to be found in Chihuahua and other southern districts a very beautiful bird called paisano (literally “countryman"), which when domesticated, performs all the offices of a cat in ridding the dwelling-houses of mice and other vermin.]
1858 Baird Birds 73, This remarkable genus [=Geococcyx] is represented in the United States by a single species the United States by a single species known as the Paisano, Chaparral Cock, or sometimes Road Runner.
1897 Oologist 14.79 TX, In Texas this bird [=roadrunner] is almost universally known as the Chaparal Bird or Mexican Peafowl; sometimes it is called the Ground Cuckoo, Snake Killer and Paisano.
1926 TX Folkl. Soc. Pub. 5.88, As crazy as a paisano (road-runner or chaparral bird).
1940 Writers’ Program Guide TX 28, The road runner or ground cuckoo, also locally called the chaparral bird, “Texas bird of paradise,” and paisano, found over the entire middle and western parts of the state, is the clown of the highways.
1957 AmSp 32.185 TX, Mexican paisano—Roadrunner.
1958 AZ Highways May 2, Born and reared in Southwest Texas, I wa grown before I knew that the bird [=roadrunner] ha any other name than paisano.., by which the Mexicans of Texas and northern Mexico know it.
1961 Ligon NM Birds 139, So much a part of the Southwest is the Roadrunner that in Texas, southern New Mexico, and particularly in Mexico, where it is regarded with affection and even reverence, it is commonly referred to as “Paisano,” meaning “fellow countryman.”

(Oxford English Dictionary)
bird of paradise, (a) a bird belonging to the family Paradiseidæ, found chiefly in New Guinea, and remarkable for the beauty of their plumage; also fig.; (b) Astron. (see quot. 1659);
1606 J. CARPENTER Solomon’s Solace xxi. 86 The bird of Paradise, which beeing taken in a snare is neuer quiet.
1638 WILKINS New World I. (1684) 175 The Birds of Paradise..reside Constantly in the Air.
a1649 CRASHAW Carmen Deo Nostro (1652) f. a. ij verso, With heauenly riches: which had wholy call’d His thoughtes from earth, to liue aboue in’th aire A very bird of paradice.
1659 MOXON Tutor Astron. I. iii. §10. 19 There are in Heaven yet twelve Constellations more, posited about the South Pole, which were added by Frederico Houtmanno,..who..named them as follows..4 The Peacock, 5 The Bird of Paradice, 6 The Fly.
1663 T. KILLIGREW Parsons Wedding III. ii, Wild. A Bird of Paradise, what’s that? Capt. A Girl of Fifteen, smooth as Satten, White as her Sunday Apron, Plump, and of the first down.
1850 Jrnl. Ind. Archipel. IV. 182 The birds of paradise are natives of New Guinea.

30 March 1847, Georgia Telegraph, pg. 1:
On our march from Onclova, we have occasionally seen the black-tailed deer, a kind of hare, (the same, I believe, as that described by Townsend,) the prairie wolf, and a large black, or dark-colored wolf; the American mocking bird, the paisano, (described by Major McCall,) the quail, (of the United States,) and a beautiful tufted dove colored partridge.

Live Search Books
An Account of the Smithsonian Institution
by William Jones Rhees
Washington, DC; Thomas McGill, Printer
1859
Pg. 63:
The Scissor-tail or Swallow-tailed Fly-Catcher or the Texas Bird of Paradise, is an exquisitely beautiful and graceful bird.

Google Books
The Encyclopædia Britannica
by Hugh Chisholm
1911
Pg. 688:
The scissor-tailed flycatcher, or Texas bird of paradise, is common on the prairies ano in the lightly wooded districts.

Google Books
Rural Texas
by William Bennett Bizzell
New York, NY: Macmillan
1924
Pg. 87:
... the snowy heron, along the Gulf coast; and the scissor-tailed fly catcher or Texas bird-of-paradise, notable for its long tail-feathers. ...

5 May 1924, Lincoln (NE) Star, pg. 4, col. 2:
Bird lovers are much pleased over the return of the scissor-tail flycatchers who nested successfully on a farm near College View last season. They returned Thursday and Friday. One was also seen on Stevens creek, probably one of the young birds of last year. These birds are very rare in this locality, their usual range extending only as far north as Kansas according to the bird books. They are sometimes called the Texas Bird of Paradise, being very common in that state.

5 May 1928, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “Children’s Corner,” part 1, pg. 11:
YOU children who have crossed the desert on your way West may have seen the comical bird, the California road runner, doing some of his “stunts” for your amusement. he has been called the clown of the desert.

Google Books
Tone the Bell Easy
by Mabel Major
Texas Folk-lore Society
1932
Pg. 187:
At the business meeting Saturday afternoon the paisano— known also as the road-runner, chaparral cock, and (occasionally) as the Texas bird-of-paradise—was, ...

10 March 1932, San Antonio (TX) Express, “Chaparral Bird Destroys Pests,” pg. 22, col. 5:
A dead chaparral bird or “road runner” supplied good evidence in favor of the perpetuation of the species, a condition opposed by many, when it was being prepared for mounting at Witte Memorial Wednesday.

There are some who hold the species should be exterminated because it kills and eats lizards which eat bugs. Others support their argument by the fact the bird eats small birds and chicken eggs.
The stomach of the bird yielded by careful count, two large grasshoppers, 31 cut worms, 12 snails, nine beetles, three crickets and a quantity of moths.
Mrs. Ellen S. Quillin, museum director, made the announcement without argument either way as to whether the bird should be exterminated or perpetuated. A popular myth has it that the birds also kill rattlesnakes but little faith is laid in this. The chaparral bird is known also as the Texas bird of paradise.

18 December 1932, Dallas (TX) Morning News, section 4, pg. 2:
The World’s Wittiest Bird
The Texas Road Runner Isn’t Satisfied With Making a Monkey of Old Man Rattlesnake—He Even Makes His Fellow Countrymen Look Idiotic.
By Dan A. Storm
(...)
Road Runner is a fitting name for the Texas Bird of Paradise. He loves a race. His favorite pastime is to test his speed along the road in front of a speeding car or galloping horse.

Live Search Books
Texas: A Guide to the Lone Star State
by Workers of the Writers’ Program
Work Projects Administration in the State of Texas
New York, NY: Hastings House
1940
Pg. 28:
The road runner or ground cuckoo, also locally called the chaparral bird, “Texas bird of paradise,” and paisano, found over the entire middle and western parts of the State, is the clown of the highways. With plumage comically ruffled, this large long-legged bird runs swiftly along the ground instead of flying, and tries to race ahead of automobiles.

Google Books
Tall Talk from Texas
by Boyce House
San Antonio, TX: The Naylor Company
1944
Pg. 14:
An Easterner, riding through a desolate stretch of Texas landscape, was startled when a “road-runner” dashed across the road with outspread wings and disappeared in the brush.
“What was that?” the visitor asked his guide.
“That is a Texas bird of paradise” was the reply.
“All I can say, then, is that he’s a h--- of a long ways from home,” the tourist remarked. 

6 March 1955, San Antonio (TX) Light, pg.22C, col. 5 ad:
Texas Bird of Paradise
Beautiful red and yellow flowers throughout the summer.
(Vogel Nurseries—ed.)

9 October 1955, Brownsville (TX) Herald, “Garden Club Plant Sale In Full Swing,” pg. 2B, col. 6:
The front of the building we planted with bougainvilles, hibiscus, Texas bird of paradise, Pampas grass and various other plants.

24 March 1957, San Antonio (TX) Light, pg. 14D, col. 6 ad:
Texas Bird of Paradise $1.25
(Vogel Nurseries—ed.)

Google Books
Journey Into Summer
by Edwin Way Teale
Dodd, Mead
1960
Pg. 265:
... with a forked tail that is almost twice the length of its body, this “Texas bird of paradise” is like no other species in North America.

2 June 1962, Ames (Iowa) Daily Tribune, pg. 3, col. 1:
Mrs. George Baker, this department’s bird-watching correspondent, reports spotting an unusual visitor to the area. While driving “within three miles of Ames,” on Memorial Day, she and her sister spotted a scissor-tailed flycatcher. The bird was sitting on a fence, she said, “and we saw this great long tail hanging down the wire.” The flycatcher, she said, is known as the Texas Bird of Paradise.

Google Books
Life Histories of North American Flycatchers, Larks, Swallows, and Their Allies
by Arthur Cleveland Bent
Courier Dover Publications
1963
Pg. 88:
Mrs. Nice (1931a) writes:
Like the Kingbirds, Crested Flycatcher and Wood Pewee the “Texas Bird of Paradise” has a “twilight song” given before dawn during the nesting session.

2 October 1969, Amarillo (TX) Globe-Times, “Highway Clown,” pg. 34, cols. 1-2:
The road runner is found hurrying along over trails and roads in the middle and western parts of the state. With plumage ruffled and with comical, cocky tilts of his head, the ground-covering bird seems to challenger and then to race automobiles or cowboys riding horses alike. He trusts his long legs to win the race for him, rather than his seldom-used wings. The road runner has been called the “clown of the highways.” In fact the big bird has more names than practically any piece of bird-life in Texas. In addition to road runner, chaparral bird and “paisano,” he is known as a ground cuckoo and the “Texas bird of paradise.”

In the Big Bend, the name of the bird as “paisano” is used to designate far-flung, high-rise geographic points—Paisano Pass (5,076 altitude), Paisano Peak (5,750 altitude).

Google Books
Book of North American Birds
by Reader’s Digest Editors
Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest Association
1990
Pg. 101:
Among our most elegant birds, the scissor-tailed flycatcher is known to some as the Texas bird of paradise, although it ranges far beyond the borders of that state. The bird’s most notable feature is its deeply forked tail—nine inches long on the male—which it opens and closes, scissors-style, while in flight. 

Google Books
Naturally...South Texas:
Nature Notes from the Coastal Bend
by Roland H. Wauer
Austin, TX: University of Texas Press
2001
Pg. 48:
Scissor-tailed Flycatchers Are Arriving in South Texas
MARCH 15, 1998
(...)
Few birds have the appeal of this charismatic flycatcher. Not only is it one of our most beautiful and gregarious birds, but it seems to prefer a relationship with humans, nesting on utility poles and in trees often surprisingly close to our various structures. Its amazing courtship flights and continuous singing tend to give it an additional appeal. It therefore is often called the “Texas bird of paradise.” And its arrival in South Texas is a sure sign that the new season has begun.

13 July 2003, Wichita (KS) Eagle, pg. 12D:
Tyrannus forficatus One of the most beautiful and elegant birds in Kansas, the scissor-tailed flycatcher is best known for its deeply forked tail, which can be 9 inches long on mature males. The birds commonly perch on exposed branches, fences and power lines, and fly out to grab insects in mid-flight. Scissor-tails can be very territorial and will aggressively force other birds from their area. They’re also known as “the Texas bird of paradise.”

Nantucket (MA) Independent (November 7, 2007)
BIRDS OF NANTUCKET
SCISSOR TALES
by Kenneth Turner Blackshaw
This week’s bird is a rarity on our island and it is one that captures every new birder’s imagination. When you look at the color plate of flycatchers in the Peterson field guide there is this incredible bird whose image goes from the top to the bottom of the page. The body of the bird is in the upper left. Then the tail drops down behind the images of the other birds clear to the bottom edge - just entrancing.

Fortunately for my bird list, the U.S. Air Force decided I should live in San Antonio, Texas from 1967 to 1969. Suddenly I was in Scissor-tailed Flycatcher heaven! I could finally truly appreciate a bird that turned out to be even more wonderful than its picture.

Now let me set your expectation level correctly. Yes, you can see this bird on Nantucket. But it has only happened four times. On one of these times, though, the bird hung around from November 9 until December 12. So don’t get too far away from your binoculars!

Like our Eastern Kingbirds that spend the summer with us, Scissor-tails are ‘tyrant’ flycatchers, part of the genus Tyrannus. As a group they are an aggressive, feisty bunch. They don’t tolerate other birds near their territories. If one were to just look at the size of their bodies, they compare well with the Eastern Kingbird’s eight inches. But a Scissor-tail male measures 15 inches and over half of that is tail.

One nickname for this flycatcher is the ‘Texas Bird of Paradise.’ The picture in the book depicts the tail, but my goodness, it doesn’t convey what the bird does. During the summer in Texas they are a frequent sight on the phone wires that stretch across the prairies. Particularly in April and May when they are courting and establishing territories they often launch themselves high in the air and then dive and climb rapidly in a series of ‘vee’ patterns. All the time they are doing this, their magnificent tail is opening and snapping shut, scissoring the sky as they do their aerial dance. You hear their staccato calls punctuating these moves. Every time you see this it just takes your breath away.

Google Books
Nature’s Edge: Boundary Explorations in Ecological Theory and Practice
by Charles S. Brown and Ted Toadvine
Albany, NY: State University of New York Press
2007
Pg. 128:
Texas has 620 documented species of bird, considerably more than any other state. One of its most gorgeous birds is the scissor-tailed flycatcher, also called Texas bird-of-paradise. It was heavily poached because of the delicate color scheme of its feathers, which are soft salmon pink and light grey. But nowadays, it is more seriously threatened by loss of habitat, the most significant cause of species extinction. Scissor-tails prefer grassland habitats with a few scattered trees, which function as their nesting sites and as places to perch while hunting for grasshoppers and other insects. Trees growing along fencerows are another favorite place for scissor-tails. When they are cleared or when the fencelines themselves are removed, the scissor-tails lose significant habitat. The biggest threat is encroaching subdivision of ranchland.

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (0) Comments • Saturday, November 10, 2007 • Permalink