Living Bird Magazine
Swallow-tailed KiteElanoides forficatus
- ORDER: Accipitriformes
- FAMILY: Accipitridae
The lilting Swallow-tailed Kite has been called “the coolest bird on the planet.” With its deeply forked tail and bold black-and-white plumage, it is unmistakable in the summer skies above swamps of the Southeast. Flying with barely a wingbeat and maneuvering with twists of its incredible tail, it chases dragonflies or plucks frogs, lizards, snakes, and nestling birds from tree branches. After rearing its young in a treetop nest, the kite migrates to wintering grounds in South America.More ID Info
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.
- Elanio Tijereta (Spanish)
- Naucler à queue fourchue (French)
- Cool Facts
- The kite’s aerial acrobatics while on the hunt are something to see. It continually flicks and rotates its tail, switching from a straight course to a tight turn in an instant as it scans for prey. Sometimes it rolls and dives backward to catch an insect behind it. Adults swallow their food while flying, rarely perching during the day.
- Though adult Swallow-tailed Kites eat mostly flying insects, they feed their young with many types of small vertebrates - including tree frogs, lizards, nestling birds, and snakes. They snatch these animals from trees and other plants while in flight, and carry them in their feet.
- Swallow-tailed Kites eat many stinging insects including wasps and fire ants. In Florida, the kites often return to their nests with whole wasp nests, eat the larvae, and add the insect’s nest into their own nest. Their stomachs are thicker and spongier than the average raptor stomach.
- Multiple breeding pairs often nest in nearby trees, and nonbreeding birds may also hang around the area. They even carry food and nest materials to breeding females, but the females typically decline their gifts.