One of the highlights of our recent trip to California was our first sighting of a white-tailed kite, at Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge, just south of Eureka. Perched in a small grove of trees amidst an extensive wetland, the kite resembled a snowy owl (though out of place and out of season).
White-tailed kites are permanent residents of wooded grasslands and marshlands along the Pacific Coast (from Oregon to Baja), in southern Texas, in southernmost Florida and throughout Mexico, Central America and South America. Formerly known as the black-shouldered kite, this light-colored raptor often hovers while hunting; small rodents are its favored prey but it also consumes snakes, lizards, frogs and large insects. Breeding pairs generally produce four offspring each year and the population and range of these beautiful predators appears to be expanding.
It's one thing for a seasoned birder to discover a new life species by patiently stalking small songbirds in dense vegetation and quite another to be confronted by a theretofore unseen raptor, sitting in the open for all to see. It was as if nature was extending a gift, a reward of sorts for years of enduring stiff necks, cold feet, insect bites and other maladies common to birders. The gift was sincerely appreciated.