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Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Elanoides forficatus                                              Photo Fiona Sunquist ©


One of the most beautiful birds in Florida, the unmistakable, elegant swallow-tail kite is easily recognized by its deeply forked tail, distinctive black and white plumage, and graceful aerial displays. Juvenile birds can be identified by the lack of the deeply forked tail.

Swallow-tailed kites are almost always seen in the air. If you are lucky enough to be able to watch one for any length of time you will notice them swoop to pluck an insect out of the sky or a fledgling bird from a nest, and then eat the meal while flying.  Swallow-tail kites feed entirely on the wing, primarily on insects, lizards, frogs, snakes and small birds.  They drink on the wing like a swallow, swooping low to snatch water from the surface of a river or lake.

Swallow-tail kites arrive in Florida from South America in late February to mid-March.  They are most obvious at this time of the year as they carry sticks, moss and other nesting material to their chosen nest site.  Nests are usually in the top of one of the tallest trees in a pine or cypress stand.

After the two or three young fledge, the adults and young birds fly south again, first gathering in communal roosts in south Florida before migrating to South America.  One such roost near Fisheating Creek near Lake Okeechobee contained approximately 2,000 birds.  In 1996, Dr Ken Meyer attached radio transmitters to 6 swallow-tailed kites and followed their migration route through Cuba, Mexico and Central America to their wintering area in Brazil.

Click here to find out where you can report swallow-tailed kite sightings in your area.

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Wildlife of Florida 2011
Wildlife of Florida 2011
Fiona Sunquist
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Wildlife of Florida: Lizards
Fiona Sunquist
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