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.