WatchList Species Account for Swallow-tailed Kite
(Elanoides forficatus)

Qualifies for the list as a Declining Yellow List Species


Photo: © Jeff Higgott
Photo: Jeff Higgott

Formerly breeding in the U.S. from the Gulf Coast and in the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys as far north as Minnesota, the Swallow-tailed Kite now breeds from coastal South Carolina south to Florida and west to Louisiana and east Texas, where it ranges over freshwater and brackish marshes and lowland and swamp forests.


Winter range includes roughly the northern half of South America where it favors humid forests and avoids arid areas and the higher elevations. The kite also breeds in southern Mexico and in Central and South America.


The birds are gregarious, and several pairs may nest close to each other. For nesting it needs tall, accessible trees (most often pines) and nearby open areas to hunt prey. The birds may roost communally at night, and some premigration roosts may draw hundreds of kites.


Flying insects are the main food items for these species, which often eats its catch on the wing. Nesting birds also feed a variety of small vertebrates to their young .


In 1990 the estimated U.S. population was 800 to 1,150 pairs, with probably 60-65% in Florida. At present the population is thought to be stable.


The main threat to this lovely kite is habitat loss and degradation, largely due to agricultural and urban development, particularly in Florida. Vital habitat is also threatened by logging and flood control, which results in altered hydrology in coastal lowlands. An analysis in the early 1990s in Florida indicated there were about 2,400 squre miles of suitable habitat available for the species, of which only 742 square miles were on lands managed for conservation. This is sufficient area for only about 200 pairs of kites.


Recommended conservation measures include avoiding cutting of pines around active nests and protection of large premigration communal roosts, which are used year after year.