SIB “Bird of the Week” – Kites: Mississippi vs Swallow-tailed

Mississippi Kite – Ictinia mississippiensis
Length: 14″ Wingspan: 31″ Weight: 10 oz

Swallow-tailed Kite – Elanoides forficatus (endangered in South Carolina)
Length: 22″ Wingspan: 51″ Weight: 12 oz

Living at a beach community, I’m sure many people are accustomed to looking at kites in the sky along the beach – you know, the kind that Ben Franklin used.  But have you ever looked up to see either of these birds?

Mississippi Kite (left) & Swallow-tailed Kite (right) - Ed Konrad
Mississippi Kite (left) & Swallow-tailed Kite (right) – Ed Konrad

Both of these birds, the Mississippi and the Swallow-tailed Kites, can be seen on Seabrook Island and both within the past two weeks!  We’ve seen a Mississippi Kite pair flying over the community garden and over the marshes.

The two species look quite different from each other and are quite unmistakable from other birds.  Swallow-tailed Kites are large but slender and buoyant raptors. They have long, narrow, pointed wings, slim bodies, and a very long, deeply forked tail. The bill is small and sharply hooked. Swallow-tailed Kites are a sharp contrast of bright-white head and underparts and gleaming black wings, back, and tail. From below, the wing linings are white and the flight feathers are black. Its most unique characteristic is the elongated, forked tail (hence its name).  This large raptor is built like a glider with huge wings and small streamlined bodies. They rarely flap their wings; instead soar effortlessly, changing course with minute adjustments of their distinctive forked tails.  The species is now listed as endangered in South Carolina.

Mississippi Kites are a slender and much smaller raptor with long, pointed wings. The tail is fairly long and square-tipped. The strongly hooked bill is small and delicate.  They are an inky mix of gray and black, lightening to pale gray-white on the head and in the secondaries of the wings. The wingtips and tail are black. Juveniles are streaky, with brownish chests and underwings, and banded tails. Though known for their graceful, acrobatic flight, Mississippi Kites also spend time foraging on the ground and in shallow water.

Both species of kite feed on the wing, snatching dragonflies and other insects out of the sky and eating them while still in flight. They may also feed on small amphibians such as frogs, large insects, crickets, small birds and small mammals including bats. Swallow-tailed kites inhabit mostly woodland & forested wetlands near nesting locations. Nests are built in trees, usually near water. Both male and female participate in building the nest. Sometimes a high-pitched chirp is emitted, though the birds mostly remain silent.  Mississippi Kites breed in scattered areas of the southern and central United States, using very different habitats depending on the region. East of the Mississippi River, they nest in mature, diverse, low-lying forest—especially tracts that are large and unbroken but have nearby open habitat, such as pasture, cropland, waterways, country roads, or small lakes. They nest in almost any tree species, as low as a few feet off the ground to more than 115 feet high.

Both kites are creatures of the air, spending most of their day aloft and rarely flapping their wings. They tend to circle fairly low over trees as they hunt for small animals in the branches. At times they soar very high in the sky, almost at the limits of vision.

Swallow-tailed Kites once nested in 21 States. By 1940 after a sudden decline the Kite’s range shrunk to 7 States, from South Carolina to Texas. The species nesting habits have made the swallow-tailed Kite difficult to study. Researchers must come to them and climb high in Loblolly pine to observe nests. Nesting adults and their young are subject to predation by Great Horned Owls. They migrate North in the Spring across the Gulf of Mexico and can be swept off course by storms. During migration they may form large flocks.  Read this fabulous article featured in the April/May 2016 issue of Nature Conservancy.

If you see kites – researchers want to know about it. You should always document your bird sightings in eBird.  In addition, The Center for Birds of Prey, located in Awendaw, SC manages & tracks log sightings of the Swallow-tailed Kite. Visit www.thecenterforbirdsofprey.org for more info. The website guides you through a series of questions about the location, number and activities of the bird or birds sighted.

A group of kites has many collective nouns, including a “brood,” “kettle,” “roost,” “stooping,” and a “string” of kites.

Look for both species of Kites in South Carolina during the spring and summer breeding months over swamps, marshes and large rivers. Besides Seabrook Island, Caw Caw Interpretive Center is a great location to view kites.  They nest high in the loblolly pines.

(See the range map following the photographs below.)

If you would like to learn more about these birds visit:

Notes from photographer Ed Konrad:  “These photos were taken at Skeen’s Farm, Glenville GA, which is an incredible place to see the Kites up close and in action. A very memorable photographic day. We see Kites at Caw Caw, and on the way to Seabrook in Allendale SC and at a cattle farm outside of Augusta. But not up close as at this farm.”

This blog post is part of a series SIB will publish on a regular basis to feature birds seen in the area, both migratory and permanent residents.  When possible we will use photographs taken by our members.    Please let us know if you have any special requests of birds you would like to learn more about.

Submitted by Nancy Brown with information from Janice Watson-Shada.
Photographs compliments of Ed Konrad

Watch: “Busy Beaches After Red Knots:  Supporting Our Nesting Shorebirds”

Abby Sterling, PhD

The Kiawah Island Shorebird Stewardship Program, lead by Bette Popillo, is hosting an upcoming Zoom presentation on Tuesday May 10th at 5:30 pm and would like to invite all Seabrook Island Birder (SIB) members to watch a fabulous presenter, Abby Sterling.  For those of you who don’t know who Abby Sterling is, she is a shorebird biologist and is the director of the Georgia Bight Shorebird Conservation Initiative.

The title of Abby Sterling’s talk is: “Busy Beaches After Red Knots:  Supporting Our Nesting Shorebirds”

A brief description of her talk:  

As the last of our Red Knots and other Arctic nesting shorebirds depart at the end of May, the beaches can feel a bit empty.  But, tucked above the wrack line and in the dunes, drama continues to unfold.  Nesting Wilson’s Plovers and American Oystercatchers are overcoming a host of challenges to successfully incubate eggs and raise chicks.  These species are both of high conservation concern, and our actions can have a significant impact on their ability to raise their offspring.  Learn more about the secret lives of the beach nesting shorebirds that depend on our backyards, and simple steps that we can take to help them succeed.

When: May 10, 2022 05:30 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

Where: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/86249136507

Or One tap mobile : 

    US: +13017158592,,86249136507#  or +13126266799,,86249136507#

Or Telephone:

    Dial(for higher quality, dial a number based on your current location):

        US: +1 301 715 8592  or +1 312 626 6799  or +1 929 205 6099  or +1 253 215 8782  or +1 346 248 7799  or +1 669 900 6833

Webinar ID: 862 4913 6507

***The presentation will also be recorded.***

Join SIB for Global Big Day – Saturday May 14

Saturday, May 4 8:00 am – 5:30 pm
Global Big Day – Learning Together at various locations
Location:
8:00 am – 10:30 am Camp St. Christopher
11:00 am – 12:00 pm Bob Cat Trail/Six Ladies Trail
1:30 pm – 2:30 pm Jenkins Point
3:00 pm – 3:30 pm Equestrian Center
4:00 pm – 5:30 pm Palmetto Lake
Max: 12 for each location
Cost: None for members; $5 donation for guests

REGISTER NOW

On May 14, Cornell Lab and eBird sponsor Global Big Day. Will you join more than 30,000 others and become a part of Global Big Day? You don’t have to commit to birding for 24 hours—an hour or even 10 minutes of watching birds makes you part of the team. Visit your favorite spot or search out someplace new; enjoy a solo walk or get some friends to join in the Global Big Day fun. As part of this day, Seabrook Island Birders will conduct Learning Together activities at various locations plus offer you an opportunity to request someone to bird with you at your favorite location. The registration form below allows you to select which locations you wish to bird.

The morning will start at 8:00 am with a Learning Together at Camp St. Christopher. Explore the lakes, lagoons, paths and slough at St. Christopher. This event will have 1 – 2 miles of walking over uneven terrain. Spring should be in full swing, so we should see all the usual suspects, but will also hopefully get looks at some of our more elusive resident breeding songbirds…Yellow-throated Warbler, Pine Warbler, Northern Parula, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Painted Bunting. We may be lucky to see a few migrant warblers (Louisiana Waterthrush, Prothonotary Warbler, Common Yellowthroat), Scarlet Tanagers and Blue Grosbeaks. For this portion of the day, we ask people to make a voluntary contribution to Camp St. Christopher.

At 11:00 am we will continue our day at Bob Cat Trail with an extension to Six Ladies Trail. Along this trail we should see our local favorite Painted Bunting who likes to hang out at the end of Bob Cat Trail. Great Crested Flycatchers, Eastern Towhee and Gulls and Egrets should also be seen. I’m still hoping to see some migratory warblers.

At 1:30 pm we will traverse (on bike or car) down Jenkins Point to hopefully see more Egrets, Herons and Anhingas. Low tide is 1:16 pm so hopefully we’ll have some shorebirds in the mud flats. Since this activity can be primarily by car, it is a good opportunity for people with mobility issues.

At 3:00 pm we will visit the Equestrian Center where we can expect to see European Starlings, Eastern Bluebirds and likely a few of our resident hawks. We have scheduled only a brief time here as we likely won’t move far beyond the parking areas next to the pastures.

At 4:00 pm we will conclude our day with a walk around Palmetto Lake. This is less than one mile of flat, paved walk around the lake. Historically in May at this location we see Great Crested Flycatchers, Orchard Orioles and Mississippi Kites in addition to the “normal” Great Egrets, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Chickadees, etc.

This form can also be used to suggest another location and time you would like to have a friend (old or new) to join you to bird. SIB will send and email to the Google Group of all these suggested times and places for people to gather.

If you are not yet a 2022 SIB member, you must first become a member by following the instructions on our website: https://seabrookislandbirders.org/contact/join-sib/ or we request a $5 donation to SIB.

Once you are a member, register no later than Thursday May 12 , 2022. All registrants will receive a confirmation letter on Friday May 13.

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