American Swallow-tailed Kite

Elanoides forficatus
Prepared by: 
Ann Walton
  • Length: 20-25 inches
  • Wingspan: 47-54 inches
  • Weight: 325-500 grams

The long pointed wings and deeply forked tail make this bird unmistakable.  Males and females are similar in coloration. Adults are blackish above with head, neck, underbody, and underwing coverts pure white.  Flight feathers and tail are black.  Iris dark brown to red. Immatures are similar to adults except for a shorter tail and narrow white tips on flight feathers and tail.  

 

Subspecies: 
2 Recognized; U.S. species is nominate
Distribution: 
Southeast U.S. through Central America to northeast Argentina
Habitat: 
Over forests in tropical and subtropical regions, often preferring marshy areas.
Feeding: 
Hunts by drifting gracefully just above treetops, or low over ground, with outstretched wings and tail in a constant balancing motion. Prey is mostly insects; also some birds and fruit snatched while in flight. Will also drop down on lizards and snakes.
Breeding: 
Mid-March in Florida; January – June farther south. Colonial nesters. Twig nest, lined with moss, built on smaller branches at top of trees to prevent mammal predation (although larger raptors and strong winds can easily destroy these precariously placed nests). Clutch size is 1-2 eggs.
Movements: 
Migratory. Fall migration late July – early August; spring migration February – early March.
Status: 
Not globally threatened. Fairly common over entire range.