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Swallow-tailed Kites

One day in early April, several years ago, some friends and I took a paddle on the Edisto River in search of swallow-tailed kites.  We were not having much luck until we came upon this one stretch of river where we had a unique encounter with this acrobatic and stunning bird.  Here is the story. 


Cypress, Tupelo Swamp

Swallow-tailed kites hunt above forested wetlands.  This includes the cypress and tupelo swamps along the Edisto river. This habit provides the many insects and small amphibians that are their diet.


This is a beautiful place to paddle.  The trees are majestic, there are warblers, owls, kites, woodpeckers and other birds galore.


The Edisto River

The river provides an opportunity to see the kites in action.  They fly high over the trees, swooping and turning in order to catch a dragon fly or bee.  They scan the top branches of the trees looking for lizards, caterpillars and other creatures to grab on the go.

Because of the openness over the river, we are able to view the kites in action.  If we can find them.



There she is!

Finally, we spotted one.  They are unmistakable. That forked tail stands out in silhouette. And their flight is so acrobatic. They dart and dive and turn on a dime.  Check out this video of some kites hunting.   swallow-tailed kites foraging

Notice how they use their tail to turn and perform precise maneuvers, snatching their prey in flight. 


A close look

These are big birds, too. Their wingspan is about 4 feet. Imagine 4' - a piano is this wide.


They have the talons and beak of the raptor that they are. And they eat 'on the wing', which means they hold the prey in their talons and, while flying, bring the food to their mouth for a bite.


They rarely flap their wings, gliding effortlessly.



That is me.  And right in front of me, at water level, is our bird!  What is she doing???

I could hardly breathe she was so close.  I felt so privileged to be watching this incredible bird. 

She came down to the water and appeared to dip her feet, then flew up high, around in a circle and did it again. And again. And again.


Drinking?  Pedicure?

Some reading I have done since explains that the birds will drink by flying down to the water like this.  They don't land, just skim the water with their beak.  

Our bird looked like she was doing something with her feet, though.  A mystery. Any guesses?


More about these birds

It was a awesome siting.  I will never forget it.

Swallow-tailed kites spend their winter in Brazil and come here to breed.  They are losing the habitat they need in order to raise fledglings, however.  Read this article to learn more about swallow-tailed kites and efforts to assist this bird to recover.


11 kites southbound aerial.png

More about these birds

You can see these birds during the summer from kayaks on many lowcountry rivers, at Caw Caw, Bear Island WMA, and from bridges over the creeks in the Francis Marion Forest.  You will recognize it when you see it.  If you see one, report it to the Center for Birds of Prey.

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