Swallow-tailed Kite

Elanoides forficatus
STKI LWR - Profile

With its striking black and white plumage, deeply forked tail, and extraordinary aerial grace, the Swallow-tailed Kite is rarely misidentified as it courses low over the treetops in search of small vertebrates or twists and dives in pursuit of flying insects. Even at great distances, soaring Swallow-tailed Kites can be distinguished from Buteo hawks and vultures by their silhouette, slightly downcurved wings, and tendency to hang motionless while heading upwind. The sexes are indistinguishable by plumage or size. The northern subspecies, Elanoides forficatus forficatus, breeds in the southeastern United States and winters in South America. The southern subspecies, E. f. yetapa, breeds from southern Mexico to south-central South America and is migratory at least in the northern portion of its range. 

Gregarious in all seasons, this kite is a conspicuous inhabitant of wetlands in the southeastern United States, where it ranges over swamp and lowland forests as well as freshwater and brackish marshes. Several pairs, each apparently monogamous and producing a single clutch per season, may nest in close proximity. Extra, nonbreeding kites usually associate with nesting birds, whether solitary or in loose colonies. Although flying insects are the mainstay for this species during most of the year, nesting birds feed their young a diverse array of small vertebrates, including tree frogs, lizards, nestling birds, and snakes, which they glean from the tree canopy or emergent vegetation of marshes and ponds while in flight. Communal night roosts near nests are common, and premigration roosts may draw hundreds of kites from large areas. 


Meyer, Kenneth D. 1995. Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online:  http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/138   

Dick, Gary Owen. Retrieved online from Field Guide to Birds of North America:  http://identify.whatbird.com/obj/976/overview/Swallow-tailed_Kite.aspx 

Facts About Swallow-tailed Kite

The Swallow-tailed Kite rarely flap its wings while flying, but it almost continuously rotates its tail, often to nearly 90 degrees, in order to hold a heading, make a sharp turn, or trace tight circles while drifting across the sky.  

The Swallow-tailed Kite is perhaps the most adept and acrobatic flier of all the raptors.

A group of kites has many collective nouns, including a "brood", "kettle", "roost", "stooping", and "string" of kites.