Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Swallow-tailed Kites - Florida's Summer Snowbirds

 July 2015

     We hadn't even discovered golf yet the first time we saw a swallow-tailed kite.  A summer visit to the southwest coast of Florida led us one day to cool off at Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary under the largest remaining stand of old-growth bald cypress in North America.  Its habitat supports an amazing array of wildlife, including these beautiful birds who arrive every spring for nesting season and leave each fall - returning to Brazil!
     Our area of Central Florida lies between the St. John's River and the Atlantic Ocean, offering ideal nesting for these small raptors - stands of wide-spread live oaks draped in Spanish moss that they collect to pad into soft nests high atop tall long-leaf pines and bald cypress.  We noticed a few here the following summer and every March since then we have watched for their return.  They seem to come back to the same neighborhood year after year, generation after generation, and every year there have been a few more.
     Once seen as far north as Minnesota, the southeastern United States is as far north as these birds travel now.  But if our sightings of swallowtails this year are an indication of the bird's population growth, we have good news to report.  We've seen them almost daily over our house and at Victoria Hills Golf Club in Deland, RedTail Golf Club in Sorrento, Riviera Country Club in Ormond Beach and Glen Abbey Golf Course in Debary.  It's hard to capture them on film - as soon as we hear them we see them and then they are gone, cutting and banking through treetops.
     One day we counted 15 in the air together, testing thermal lift it seems.  We believe by now, early July, the babies have fledged and what we are seeing are squadrons in training.  In another month they'll be gathering along Florida's rivers and swamps, getting in one last big buffet of lizards and frogs before taking flight in their own Florida snowbird migration, heading south for the winter - South America!

                                                   Swallow-tailed Squadron
     The above video is of swallow-tailed kites in flight training over Central Florida before taking wing to their winter home in Brazil!  Our area golf courses offer great birding opportunities year-round, including kite sightings from March to September.

For more information on the swallow-tailed kite and other Florida wildlife, go to
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's
Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail