Swallow-tailed Kite Breeding Season

Swallow-tailed Kites arrived about 1.5 weeks earlier than normal in north central Florida this year.  I saw my first-of-the-year Swallow-tailed Kite on February 29th, sailing right over my house…what a yard bird!  Since then I’ve seen about a dozen more in Marion and Levy counties. Over the past week, I’ve seen a handful of Swallow-tailed Kites carrying nesting material.  Swallow-tailed Kites eat mainly insects, frogs, lizards, and small birds, so the wetlands of Levy and Marion counties are ideal habitat for them.  For more about Swallow-tailed kites, check out this post I made last year while living in Lake Placid, FL. The Arrival of Swallow-tailed Kites in South-central Florida

A few days ago, early in the morning on my drive to Levy county, I came across a Swallow-tailed Kite perched in a tree along a major highway.  I have personally never seen a Swallow-tailed Kite perched in a tree before; I usually leave Florida just as their breeding season kicks into gear, and have only seen them in flight.  I did a quick U-turn, but I was unsure how the bird would react to a vehicle stopping to take a look at it.  Maybe a bird that spends the majority of its day on the wing wouldn’t be used to being approached by vehicles?  Not the case at all; the bird continued to preen, yawn, and fall asleep, as if I wasn’t even there.  I was surprised to notice how deep chested and bulky these birds appear when perched, making them appear more like a large dove or pigeon than a raptor.  A few hundred meters down the road was another kite carrying nesting material, likely the mate to this bird.

Swallow-tailed Kite - note "pigeon-headed" appearance

Later in the day on my drive home, a Swallow-tailed kite flew right in front of my jeep, just inches away from a collision!  I stopped the jeep to see what was going on here, and 2 kites were flying right over the road.

Swallow-tailed Kites have an unmistakable profile in flight

Swallow-tailed kites rarely flap their wings, and instead rotate their tail like a rudder as they catch updrafts just over the treeline (making them appear more like an airplane than a bird).  One kite was hunting the edge of a farm field, while the other was sailing over the road and treeline, with its talons clasped tightly onto some nesting material. The bird was constantly rearranging the leaves and branches in its talons, and did this for about 10 minutes until disappearing over the treeline.  Make sure to take a second look at the Swallow-tailed Kites you come across to see if they are also carrying nesting material, and be sure to enter it on ebird with a breeding code.

Swallow-tailed Kite with nesting material

Swallow-tailed Kite in flight

Swallow-tailed Kite - note rudder-like tail