Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Chew Your Food - The Swallow-tailed Kite

How long does it take to eat a few cheeseburgers and a shake? If you’re going to eat junk food you should eat least take the time to savor the grade D beef and triple-thick, corn syrup shake that requires a ¼ inch wide straw to drink it through. I watched incredulously the other day as the man in the car next to me at an intersection devoured his lunch like a gator eating a softshell turtle. Chomp. Swallow. Next.  Eating really should take place in front of the television as nature intended it.

Just as I take exception to the feeding habits of carbivores, I wonder how much enjoyment eating is for the Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus). I’ve never seen a STK that wasn’t in flight. I’ve never seen a Skunk Ape or a Florida Panther either but I think I may see one or both of those first. It’s that rare.  

Just about everyone has flown a kite, the string-tethered toy that can stay aloft for hours if the wind and operator cooperate. The toy is named after the bird of which there are several species found around the globe. Here in Florida we have the Snail Kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis), Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippiensis) and the split-tailed STK. All of them ride updrafts and thermals to stay aloft, mixed with the occasional wing flap, but the STK feeds on the wing, meaning the dragonflies and other flying insects they enjoy noshing on are caught and eaten as they fly. They also swoop to capture lizards from the treetops.

The Kite pictured here was one of five STKs circling above me at the Harns Marsh in Lehigh Acres, FL. This one appears to be a juvenile. The tail is shorter than a typical adult’s tail and the fanned tail feathers don’t have the pronounced fork like the adults do. The birds cried a wheezy ki-ki-ki  as they picked off dragonflies above the marsh, each twitch of the tail gracefully steering the bird into a smooth banking turn, dive or ascent. Within seconds of noticing me, the birds were 100 feet higher, apparently not appreciating being watched as they ate.

The guy eating his lunch in traffic had no such qualms.