Saturday, 2 February 2013

American Swallow Tailed Kite

order : Falconiformes      Genus & Species : Accipitridae     Family : Elanoides forficatus

A migratory bird, the swallow-tailed kite spends only half the year in North America, usually arriving in March and leaving by September to winter in South America. A skilled aerial hunter, the swallow-tailed kite can easily snatch elusive insects with its sharp talons, and eat them in midair. They found in the southeastern U.S.; also in southwestern Mexico through Central America and in northern South America to Argentina. 

Habitat : The swallow-tailed kite prefers the high trees and leafy expanses of open woods, swamps, bayous, marshes and hardwood forests. It frequents these areas in Mexico, Central America and much of South America. In North America, the kite is found in south Louisiana and south Texas, as well as in southwestern Florida, where large kite populations inhabit the secluded mangrove swamps; there, they find plentiful swarms of flying insects to feast on and tall trees in which to nest. 
Food & Hunting : The American swallow-tailed kite feeds mostly on insects grabbed in midair and snatched from the tree canopy during low, slow glides. It usually eats its catch on the wing, transferring the food from its strong, agile talons to its sharp, hooked beak while flying. A typical kite dinner consists of numerous victims gleaned from a flying swarm of insects. The bird also preys on hummingbirds, which are caught by surprise as they hover while feeding on nectar.Tree frogs, anole lizards and snakes round out the bird’s diet. In Florida, where anole lizards are plentiful in the kite’s preferred mangrove forest habitat, they comprise 99% of prey delivered to the nest. The American swallow-tailed kite also takes young birds from their nests, often carrying off entire nests of smaller species and eating them with one leg free while clutching the nest with the other. 
Behavior : Gregarious swallow-tailed kites often nest quite close together in colonies, which offers an advantage in detecting and deterring potential predators. In fact, these groups of kites often launch cooperative assaults on larger birds of prey, such as bald eagles. The kite’s keen vision allows it to see attackers from far away and sound a highpitched alarm call, eee or kee, repeated several times. Kite nestlings have been known to dribble excrement directly down onto the nest rim to avoid leaving telltale signs on the ground and attracting predators, especially raccoons, which abound in the kite’s Florida mangrove habitat. 
Breeding : The swallow-tailed kite’s breeding season runs from January through June, depending on the region. Many kite nests are over 100' from the ground, a height that makes studying the breeding behavior of this elusive bird a challenge. As part of its courtship behavior, the male kite has been observed feeding the female before copulation, which is frequent and noisy. The nest is constructed of twigs and lined with moss and situated on very small branches in the tops of high trees.These hard-to-reach areas make it harder for terrestrial animals to reach the nest — but they also make it vulnerable to birds of prey, such as the bald eagle and great horned owl. The female usually lays 1–2 eggs and incubation lasts from about 28–31 days; in two-egg clutches, the first egg is much larger than the second, and has a greater chance of survival. Both parents share parental duties; the male provides more food, but the female remains longer at the nest. Fledging occurs at about 40 days. 

Bill : The swallow-tailed kite uses its sharp, hooked bill to snatch insects from the air as well as from its feet during flight. 
Plumage : The swallow-tailed kite is mostly black on top of its body, with a white head and underparts, giving it a tuxedolike appearance. 
Legs & Feet : The kite snatches insects with sharptaloned feet and eats them while flying. 
In Flight : The kite uses its long, pointed wings and deeply forked tail to turn sharply in flight; the tail may be opened and closed like a pair of scissors. 

Weight : 11–18 oz. 
Length : 20-25"
Wingspan : 47-54"
Sexual Maturity : 4 years
Breeding Season : Varies with region 

American swallow-tailed kites congregate each year at central Florida’s Lake Okeechobee, apparently as a “staging area” before taking off for their annual winter migration to South America.

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