I know itís really spring when I see my first swallow-tailed kite.
Since we have a fairly robust population here, many people may be unaware that this bird is in eminent danger due to habitat destruction. Florida is believed to have more nesting swallow-tailed kites than the rest of the United States combined.
It is estimated that about 10,000 swallow-tailed kites (Elanoides forficatus) remain in North America.
This bird once bred north to Minnesota and west to Texas but is now confined mainly to Florida and Mississippi although scattered populations can be found as far north as South Carolina.
Swallow-tailed kits nest in the top of tall trees and destruction of old growth forests is believed to have played a role in their decline. Nests are normally located in marshes or along rivers. The nesting pair cooperates to construct a nest of twigs and sticks lined with lichen and moss, then, the female does practically all of the brooding while the male provides most of the food until the chick is several weeks old.
Swallow-tailed kites produce one to three eggs. When more than one is produced, the first to hatch normally kills the younger siblings.
The swallow-tailed kiteís main diet consists of insects, but, it will also take small birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Their prey may be snatched from the tree tops or in midair and eaten while the kite is flying.
The kite is one of the most skillful and agile raptors.
When the nesting cycle is complete, the kites travel to South Florida where they aggregate in communal roosts. By the end of September the entire population has lifted off for their journey to their winter home in South America. Their exact route is unknown.
The kiteís habitat is disappearing at both ends of their migration route. In Florida, less than one third of their current nesting area is on protected land.