Swallow-tailed Kite populations experience several hazards, including wetland alteration, noise and human disturbance, pesticides and herbicides, fertilizers, persecution and electrocution. Some hazards, like persecution and electrocutions have a more direct impact resulting in loss, through death or injury, of smaller units of the population. On the contrary, habitat loss and human disturbances occur at larger scales by contributing loss to breeding, roosting, and nesting sites. These hazards occur primarily during three behavioral phases: nesting, roosting, and foraging. Below we address some of these hazards, as well as discuss considerations that could aid in the future success of the Swallow-tailed Kite.
Swamps consisting of woody plants like cypress trees, a key part of Swallow-tailed Kite habitat, are primarily freshwater and located in the Southeastern United States along the coast. As sea levels rise due to an increase in global temperature, saltwater infiltrates into these freshwater habitats, limiting access to habitat and prey that cannot survive or reproduce in a higher salinity. If a sea level rise of over 1 meter occurs, a predicted 30-90 % of the freshwater marshland will be inundated with saltwater, decreasing the Cyprus forests as well as other plant and animal life that relies on freshwater.
Prevent Wetland Development: Because South Carolina’s coastal wetland is 90% freshwater, preservation of nearby coastal wetlands through the avoidance of swamp draining, urbanization, and wetland agricultural development could assist in the restoration of the species. Development pressures, through the conversion of wetlands into agriculture and developed areas, can directly cause degradation of coastal wetlands. Between 2004 and 2009, 443,780 acres of wetland disappeared: 63% was converted into other types of wetland and 36% was lost to development. Converting wetlands into lumber silviculture does not require a permit for development and accounts for approximately 44% of the habitat loss.
Advocate for Climate Policies: By talking to local representatives and through voting, you can help to prominently display the people’s desire for the government to take more action to prevent further problems caused by climate change.
Go Green: Although there is not one single action alone that will solve the complex issue of climate change, steps to reduce carbon emissions and overall environmental impact could benefit habitats, species, and future generations
Link that assists in cleaner living: https://www.epa.gov/environmental-topics/greener-living
Books: The Green Book by Elizabeth Rogers (found on Amazon)
Living Green: A Practical Guide to Simple Sustainability by Greg Horn
Eutrophication can occur in swamps utilized by Swallow-tailed Kites, especially those near agricultural areas with excessive application of uncontained fertilizers and sewage. Eutrophication causes phosphorus, nitrogen, and ammonia to disrupt the natural balance of ecosystem. The rise in these compounds can cause nearby water to become unfit for the development of several species through the increased production of algae and subsequent decrease in oxygen levels. By causing the decrease in oxygen levels and the inability of light to penetrate murkier water, the area becomes uninhabitable by many species that rely on its balance to develop and breed, including some prey of the Swallow-tailed Kites.
Prevent Run Off: Reducing the amount of sediment that enters into the swamp can aid in preventing eutrophication. The addition of groundcover and native plants near marshland and areas where fertilizer is applied could help absorb the excess phosphorus and nitrogen and prevent both runoff and leakage into nearby water.
Reduction of Fertilizer: Reduce, whenever possible, the amount of fertilizer used, especially near important Swallow-tailed Kite habitat.
NOISE AND HUMAN DISTURBANCE
Loud and sustained noises resulting from target shooting, hunting, construction, traffic or any other form of commotion, can cause Swallow-tailed Kites to react via flushing nesting or roosting sights, or by vocal defense. In addition to noise, vehicle collisions on roadways can result in direct injuries or fatalities to Swallow-tailed Kites.
Reducing noise disturbances during the known migratory and breeding seasons of STKIs (February-August) can prevent flushing and greatly benefit these birds.
Spatial buffers can be beneficial in reducing the amount of nest abandonment to distance the sensitive kites from acoustic disruption. A land buffer ranging from 200 to 800 meters nearby strong audible commotion has been suggested in some cases.
Careful consideration prior to the construction of new roads and an implementation of safety buffers for roads adjacent to known roosting and/or breeding sites can decrease the amount of both disruption and potential injury of Swallow-tailed Kites.
PLANTING, BURNING, AND HARVESTING
The seasonal timing of prescribed burns, as well as seasonal timing of planting and harvesting crops, can have a direct impact on Swallow-tailed Kites and their prey. Prescribed burns, also known as controlled burns, are often used to reduce amounts of hazardous vegetative fuel in an area, decrease the amount of under-story vegetation, alter wildlife habitat, and increase nutrients in the soil.
Several species of birds, including Swallow-tailed Kites, have been documented over burns or burned areas, foraging for displaced prey and taking advantage of thermals created from the fire.
PESTICIDES AND HERBICIDES
Bio-magnification: Excessive pesticide and herbicide use can interfere with the success of the Swallow-tailed Kite due the chemicals’ bio-magnification effect through the trophic levels. Bio-magnification occurs when insoluble chemicals pass through various levels of prey and predators, continuously increasing the concentration of the chemicals and impacting predators at the highest levels.
Impact on the Swallow-tailed Kite: Swallow-tailed Kites prey on invertebrates during a majority of its migration season not including the vertebrae preference during breeding season, their prey could ingest the toxins through the use of pesticides or herbicides of agricultural production resulting in lack of reproductive success and could possibly result in death. Bio-accumulation of pesticides ingested by birds can result in storage of toxins within fat tissues. Once the bird burns the stored fats and materials, often occurring in times of stress, the toxins are then released into the blood stream.
Pesticides reduce beneficial populations of insects, spiders, and birds that control pests, conversely reducing one pests but increasing a previously minor one.
In addition to the negative effect of pesticides, herbicides eliminate native plant species which are food sources for the prey of many species of birds including the Swallow-tailed Kite.
Reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides whenever possible.
Purchase Organic: For the everyday consumer, it is beneficial to support the growth of organic produce by buying it whenever possible to decrease water pollution from chemical runoff, enhance stability in soil structure, decrease air pollution and climate change through the reduction of carbon use, and increase biodiversity.
For more information on Pesticide use:
Because Swallow-tailed Kites are easily spotted and exhibit a relaxed soaring pattern, they can become a clear target for poachers and hunting accidents. Although the Swallow-tailed Kites are federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, there are still incidences of illegal shootings.
Communicate: While participating in legal hunting or shooting practices, communicate with others the status of the Swallow-tailed Kite and the illegality of shooting any type of migratory bird without a permit under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act could include penalties of up to six months’ jail time and $15,000 fine.
Although electrocution is not one of the main hazards for the Swallow-tailed Kite, avian fatalities are not uncommon near power lines, as they can be temporary, but hazardous perches for many birds of prey, or can result in fatalities due to collision with live wires.
Replacement perches or deterrents used on nearby power lines, although not a subtle or easy adjustment, can reduce the number of raptor fatalities.