Swallow-tailed Kites, Elanoides forficatus, arrive in Florida in early March. They begin their breeding rituals high in the sky. The mated pair will build a nest of sticks, Spanish moss, and lichen near the top of a tall tree. Here they will share the task of incubating 1-3 eggs for about a month.
After hatching, the mother Swallow-tailed Kite will stay at the nest with the young and feed them the food that the father brings for all of them. After a few weeks, both the male and female will leave the nest to bring food back to their hungry chicks. The little ones will begin exploring the tree at about 5 weeks and will make their first flight at 5-6 weeks.
These striking raptors are hard to miss with their black forked tails and brilliant white heads contrasted against their ebony bodies. They are most often found gliding through the sky over forests near rivers or open pine forests near marshes and prairies.
When you see a Swallow-tailed Kite soaring through the sky, watch as they twist their tail and swoop near trees and over lower plants. They will often snatch an animal off of a branch or leaf without slowing down. Their favorite foods include lizards, snakes, birds, frogs, and dragonflies.
In early July, Swallow-tailed Kites will gather in large communal roosts. They are dependent on lowland forests to supply the nourishment and calories they need before embarking on their 5000-mile journey to the tropical forests of southern Brazil where they will spend the winter.
Photo Credit: flying Andy Waldo
Photo Credit: close up, Don Faulkner / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)