Swallow-tailed Kites

Leaving Longboat Key this morning, we drove north on Interstate 75, dodging thunderstorms all the way to southern Georgia.  Between episodes of torrential rain, the sky would clear and, on several occasions, a swallow-tailed kite would appear, dipping and soaring above the roadside woodlands.

Among the most exotic and beautiful birds in North America, these fork-tailed raptors once inhabited riverine and coastal wetlands throughout the Southeastern U.S. and northward along the Mississippi River Valley (when extensive swamp forests covered the river's floodplain).  Today, they are still common summer residents in Florida and smaller populations are found along the Southeast Coast and the northern Gulf Coast; come autumn, all head to swamp forests and wooded marshlands of South America.

Aloft for most of the day, swallow-tailed kites feed primarily on flying insects but also snare lizards, tree frogs and snakes from the forest canopy.  Unlike most raptors, they nest in colonies and even tolerate the presence of non-breeding kites.  Encountering these graceful hunters today was certainly the highlight of our stormy journey.