US Status: High Priority

Seen within the US: February-August

Length: 1.7- 2 feet

Wingspan: 3.9-4.5 feet

Weight: .69-1.13 pounds

The Swallow-tailed Kite’s white body feathers, black-forked tail, and rhythmic soaring pattern make it one of the most visually appealing raptors. Swallow-tailed Kites can be broken into two different subspecies.  Elanoides forficatus forficatus is migratory; wintering in South America and inhabiting the southeastern coast of North America during the summer breeding season.  Elanoides forficatus yetapa are year-round residents in Central and South America. 

We will be focusing primarily on the migratory subspecies, Elanoides forficatus forficatus. 

Distribution: Swallow-tailed Kites formally migrated through 21 states within the U.S., but now only inhabit seven Southeastern states: Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas.

Habitat: The Swallow-tailed Kites’ primary habitat is hardwood forests located near marshland consisting of tall, emergent pines and Cyprus trees. Relying on lichen, Spanish moss, and small sticks for nesting, extensive availability of hardwoods allows the kites to exhibit forging behaviors necessary for breeding and migration.

Prey: The Swallow-tailed Kite’s diet primarily consists of large winged insects, such as beetles, grasshoppers, and dragonflies, but shifts during the breeding season to include vertebrate animals such as frogs, anoles, and various nestling birds.

Status: The Swallow-tailed Kite has been listed as a High Priority species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Migratory Bird Initiative, and has been listed as endangered in the state of South Carolina by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

Population: Previous studies showed populations ranging between 800-1,150 pairs in 1990, and in a 2006 consensus, the population was estimated to be between 2,000 to 2,500 pairs.  Due to high nests, migration tendencies, and tracking limitations, it is difficult to reach a common consensus on definitive population numbers currently, and whether those populations are increasing or decreasing.