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Thursday, March 28, 2013

It's March and the kites are flying

I was in my backyard late Tuesday afternoon when I became aware of a shadow of something passing overhead. I looked up and there, circling over my yard, was a beautiful Swallow-tailed Kite.

  Swallow-tailed Kite photo by Jay Paredes, courtesy Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Over the last few years, these gorgeous raptors have been summer visitors to our area. I've seen them frequently making lazy circles over my yard, except for last summer. I never saw a single one over my yard last summer. I did have Mississippi Kite visitors but no Swallow-taileds, so it was with a particular sense of joy that I welcomed Tuesday's visitor.

In the past when I've seen them here, they've usually been in pairs, so I looked around for a second bird but didn't see one on this day.

Kites in general but especially Swallow-tailed Kites are such fun to watch in flight. Their flight seems utterly effortless. They hang motionless in the air and then swoop and glide and sometimes roll upside down or zoom high into the air, all with barely a motion of those long wings. They put on quite a show.

The adult birds eat mostly insects like dragonflies, beetles, grasshoppers, cicadas, wasps, etc., but when they are feeding nestlings, they may capture snakes, lizards, frogs, and even nestling birds to feed the young ones.

They usually nest in a tall tree in open woodlands, most often in a pine tree. In spite of the deaths of so many trees during our long drought, there are still plenty of tall pine trees in the area, so these birds should have no trouble finding a nesting site. They usually lay two eggs and both parents participate in the incubation.

They are early spring migrants, so it shouldn't be surprising to see them here in March. They will generally stay until late August or September.

According to Kenn Kaufman's book, Lives of North American Birds, these magnificent birds once ranged as far north as Minnesota in summer, but disappeared from most regions in the early 20th century. With the changing climate, it seems that they may be expanding their range once again. At any rate, I'm just glad their range will apparently include my yard once again this year.

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