No U.S. raptor has a tail as long and deeply forked as the Swallow-tailed Kite’s. Mississippi Kites are mostly gray with a shallow fork in the tail; they don’t show nearly as much contrast as the white-and-black Swallow-tailed Kite. White-tailed Kites overlap with Swallow-tailed Kites in east Texas, southwestern Louisiana, and south Florida. They are smaller, without the deeply forked tail, and are mostly white. They have black shoulders, but lack the Swallow-tailed Kite’s extensive black on the upperparts, flight feathers, and tail. At great distances, Magnificent Frigatebirds have a similar silhouette with a long, deeply forked tail, but their wings are even longer and more narrow than Swallow-tailed Kite. Frigatebirds are all black, or brown-black with a white chest.
There are two subspecies of Swallow-tailed Kite, but they look very similar and only one of them occurs in the U.S. (it is slightly larger and more purplish-black); the other subspecies is native to Central and South America.
Find This Bird
The best place to look for Swallow-tailed Kites in the U.S. is in Florida, although these spectacular birds also take to the skies above wooded wetlands across six other southeastern states. Befitting their aerial nature, scattered individuals also rarely but regularly turn up far to the north of their normal range. To find Swallow-tailed Kites, keep your eyes on the skies, as these light and graceful birds spend most of the day aloft, either skimming the treetops or soaring up high. Remember that these birds leave the U.S. after the breeding season, so summer is the time to look for them.