Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Kite Has Landed

Bald eagles, hawks, owls and ospreys get a great deal of attention but of all of the raptors, the kites are often ignored. Part of the lack of enthusiasm for Swallow-tailed Kites (Elanoides forficatus) is that they never seem to land. As soon as morning thermal updrafts develop they take to the sky and soar like a kite – rarely flapping their wings. (In truth, the toy is named after the bird). Just a warm summer breeze and both are carried aloft.

The Swallow-tailed Kite has a deeply forked tail which they use to exercise amazing twists and turns. Their prey includes dragonflies and other aeronautic insects which the birds catch and eat while in the air. They swoop from the sky and take unsuspecting birds, lizards and other terrestrial prey, taking no time to rest  and enjoy their meal.

Another possible reason many people don’t get wild for Swallow-tailed Kites is the snow white bellied birds return from South America from roughly April through August when the southeastern United States is heating up. The Kites arrive just as the bird watching season wanes. When it’s 95 degrees out, the birds are out while the people are in.

On my Sunday morning bike ride in the Corkscrew Regional Watershed Ecosystem’s Bird Rookery Unit, We inadvertently spooked a flock of kites roosting in a dead maple tree. This was the first one I have ever seen perched, which gave me the chance to check out a well curved beak and navy blue wings that look like a five year old had colored sloppily over the lines.

In a few weeks the Swallow-tailed Kites will begin to gather before migrating south. People that hadn’t noticed they were here are missing out. Those that saw a bird fly by and paid no mind are too. But those that realize what they are looking at know what a special bird it is. See you next year STKs.    

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