Swallow-tailed Kite: Elanoides forficatus
The sight of a swallow-tailed kite is unforgettable: a
black-and-white raptor (bird of prey) with a deeply forked tail
soaring through the summer sky.
After spending the fall and winter in South America, kites
arrive in Florida in early March to breed. They build nests of
small sticks woven with Spanish moss, preferably in tall cypress
and pine. These trees emerge from a canopy of prey-rich woodlands,
like those of swamps and savannas. Highly social for a raptor, they
nest in loose colonies and often forage in small flocks.
Although the historic range of swallow-tailed kites extended up
the Mississippi River drainage as far as Minnesota, populations had
plummeted by the early 1900's. Today, kites occur mostly in
Florida, although they may be found in six other southeastern
states. Their greatest threat is habitat destruction; in south
Florida, they are often forced to nest in flimsy Australian pines.
Wind often causes nests to fail.
Part of what awes you is the bird's aerial grace as it swoops
and twists over the trees "hawking" insects.
The kites eat all kinds of insects and small animals, including
frogs, anoles and snakes. By early July, they begin to gather in
large communal roosts for the migration back to South America. The
future of swallow-tailed kites depends on protection of lowland
forests throughout their breeding range.