Swallow-tailed kites once ranged across 21 states of the southeastern US. Today, they occupy six with a rough population of 10,000 individuals. A unique migratory bird, they are unlike any raptors. Feeding, drinking and bathing on the wing, they are expert fliers. Preferring to nest in the tallest pine and cypress trees in loose neighborhoods, they rely on intact stands of southern forests. Social birds, they form foraging aggregations before migrating to South and Central America, feeding primarily on small insects without stopping to land. At night, they roost together and in one location in the Everglades, 50% of the US population can be spotted in one location. Although seemingly robust before migration, kites face a difficult road. As sea levels rise on their coastal nesting and breeding habitats, large swaths of cypress forest have been ravaged by saltwater. Water withdrawals from rivers by industry and agriculture continue to exacerbate increasing salinity. Biologists in a 6-state effort are studying these birds and their associated habitats. By climbing trees and monitoring nesting success, they hope to better understand the raptor to provide sound conservation goals to state and conservation organizations. The Avian Research and Conservation Institute has started equipping kites with satellite transmitters to get a better understanding of where they go during the winter and the challenges they face upon arrival. As hardwood forests in Colombia and Brazil are being replaced by soybean and industrial agriculture, biologists hope to use the kites as a vehicle to promote domestic and international conservation efforts.
This gallery is empty.