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Swallow-tailed kites can be seen on Sanibel

By Staff | Apr 22, 2010

Swallow-tailed kite

Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus) Other names: none / Status: FL=stable, but endangered in South Carolina, IUCN=LC / Life span: to 12 years / Length: 19-25 in. (46-64 cm) / Wingspan: 48 in. (122 cm) / Weight: 13-21 oz (.37-.60 kg) / Nests: throughout Florida and southern Alabama and Mississippi during the summer / Found: in the spring, summer, and fall in interior wetlands, mangrove zone.

The swallow-tailed kite, like the magnificent frigatebird, is an impressive bird to witness in flight. In fact, you are most likely to spot and identify this bird when it is soaring high above. With its pure white body, large black-tipped wings and deeply forked black tail, this bird resembles an enormous, snowy barn swallow.

Unlike most of the migratory birds that arrive in Florida, the swallow-tailed kite comes up from Central and South America during the summer. In effect, Florida is its northern breeding grounds. Once a common nesting bird as far north as Minnesota, the swallow-tailed kite has suffered from extensive habitat loss through most of its former North American range.

There is a small resident nesting population at Corkscrew Swamp on the mainland, and more than likely some of the birds found flying over Sanibel and Captiva originate from there. They predominantly eat flying insects including dragonflies, bees, and beetles but while in flight will also pick off snakes, crickets, cicadas, and small birds from the canopy top. A skilled flyer, the swallow-tailed kite can turn its tail feathers almost 90 degrees, allowing it to make sharp turns and quick dives. Its only long-term threat is habitat loss, although some efforts are under way to reintroduce the kite into its former northernmost ranges.