Coming from Long Island, New York, I was elated to see what looked like an exotic bird here in Florida while driving north on Route 200. At first I thought someone was flying kite in a field along the highway, but I slowed down long enough to see that it was actually a large forked-tailed black and white bird. Once home, with field guides and I identified this magnificent bird as the swallow-tailed kite.
Since that time I have seen these acrobatic birds nearly daily soaring over our community from mid-March through mid-August. They are efficient flyers and can stay aloft for hours. These are large birds with wingspans of nearly 4 feet. What is interesting about kites is that they are birds of prey, raptors. They will glean large insects such as grasshoppers and anoles and frogs and baby birds and even small snakes from forests and meadows. These magnificent birds even hawk insects in mid-air.
Swallow-tailed kites nest here in Florida on the very tops of cypress trees with nests made of twigs and Spanish moss. They have raised their little ones, now full sized, and are traveling south for the winter – to the southern tip of Florida and then off across the Gulf past Cuba to the Yucatan Peninsula where they will stop briefly to forage. Then the kites will continue south over the Panama Canal before settling into areas of South America.
Swallow-tailed Kites once inhabited 21 states, but by the early 1900’s their populations declined rapidly and now they are found in only 7 southern states. In 1995, there were 2,500 pairs of kites in the U.S. This species has been proposed to be federally listed as threatened or endangered, but more data needs to be collected on their current population and there are efforts to get that information by conservation groups.
I wish these magnificent birds a safe journey to and from Florida and look forward to their return next spring.