Swallow-tailed kite

COMMON NAME: Swallow-tailed kite

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Elanoides forficatus

Adult has a long, deeply forked tail and distinctive black and white plumage. Head and underparts are white, except for the black tail and primary flight feathers. The back is also black. The immature bird is similar to the adult, but its tail is shorter and its primaries and tail are tipped white.

From March to June, they breed from South Carolina south to Florida and west to Louisiana, occasionally to Great Lakes and New England, and also Central and South America. They winter in South America.

Wooded swamps, marshes, and hardwood forests. They require very tall living trees for nesting.

Nests in the very tops of tall, slender trees, usually 60 to 100 feet above ground, but up to 200 feet high. In Florida, usually nests in pines or black mangroves. Selects trees in open, thinly wooded areas or along the edge of trails or openings so the birds can approach the nest unimpeded. Other kites are tolerated near the nest, but not other hawks or eagles.

Feeds entirely on the wing, primarily on flying insects, but also sweeps low over fields, forest canopies, and prairies to catch grasshoppers, crickets, small snakes, lizards, and frogs. Also snatches young birds and eggs, and drinks while skimming the surface of a lake or pond.

Locally common.