Thursday, September 10, 2015

Swallow-tailed Kite

Erika and I were surprised by the numbers of Swallow-tailed Kites that we saw during March's Florida trip. This kite was one of several we saw at Sanibel Island.

In almost ten years of birding in Louisiana, we never saw this raptor. Meyer (1995) suggests the relative ease of seeing this species in Florida masks its scarcity. It is easily seen in the few places it nests. Hundreds of kites, which gather from great distances, can been seen in communal roosting sites. In the 1880s, Swallow-tailed Kites were found from Minnesota and South Dakota across much of the eastern United States. Now they are restricted to swamps of the extreme southeast, from South Carolina to extreme eastern Texas.

The species is occasionally reported in its previous range—in September 2007, in Mitchell, South Dakota, I saw one feasting on flocks of migrating dragonflies. Flying insects, in fact, make up most of this hawk’s diet. Only when breeding does it consume a variety of vertebrate prey—small frogs, lizards, birds and snakes, which are taken from treetops and swamp vegetation.

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