Photo: Andy Morffew/Flickr Creative Commons

Priority Bird

Swallow-tailed Kite

Elanoides forficatus

Our most beautiful bird of prey, striking in its shape, its pattern, and its extraordinarily graceful flight. Hanging motionless in the air, swooping and gliding, rolling upside down and then zooming high in the air with scarcely a motion of its wings, the Swallow-tailed Kite is a joy to watch. At one time it was common in summer over much of the southeast, but today it is found mostly in Florida and a few other areas of the deep south.
Conservation status Formerly more widespread in southeast, north as far as Minnesota, but disappeared from many areas in early 20th century. Current population apparently stable.
Family Hawks and Eagles
Habitat Wooded river swamps. Requires tall trees for nesting and nearby open country with abundant prey. In North America found mostly in open pine woods near marsh or prairie, cypress swamps, other riverside swamp forest. In tropics, also found in lowland rain forest and mountain cloud forest.
Our most beautiful bird of prey, striking in its shape, its pattern, and its extraordinarily graceful flight. Hanging motionless in the air, swooping and gliding, rolling upside down and then zooming high in the air with scarcely a motion of its wings, the Swallow-tailed Kite is a joy to watch. At one time it was common in summer over much of the southeast, but today it is found mostly in Florida and a few other areas of the deep south.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • adult
  • adult
  • nestlings near fledging
  • adult
Feeding Behavior

Extremely maneuverable in flight. Catches flying insects in the air. Takes much of its food by swooping low over trees or lower growth, picking small creatures from the twigs or leaves without pausing. Young birds of other species are probably taken out of their nests.


Eggs

2, sometimes 1-3. Creamy white, marked with dark brown. Incubation is by both parents, about 28-31 days. Young: During first week after hatching, young are brooded almost continuously by female. Male brings food to nest, and female feeds it to young. After about 2-3 weeks, female also may hunt and bring food to nest. Young may move about in nest tree after about 5 weeks, first fly at about 5-6 weeks.


Young

During first week after hatching, young are brooded almost continuously by female. Male brings food to nest, and female feeds it to young. After about 2-3 weeks, female also may hunt and bring food to nest. Young may move about in nest tree after about 5 weeks, first fly at about 5-6 weeks.

Diet

Insects, frogs, lizards, birds. Adults apparently feed mostly on large insects at most times of year, including dragonflies, wasps, beetles, cicadas, grasshoppers, many others. Especially when feeding young, will capture many frogs, lizards, snakes, nestling birds. In tropics, also eats small fruits.


Nesting

Courtship may involve aerial chases by both sexes; male may feed female. Nest site is in tall tree in open woodland, usually in pine, sometimes in cypress, cottonwood, or other tree. Typically places nest near top of one of the tallest trees available, more than 60' above ground. Nest (built by both sexes) is platform of small sticks, lined with soft lichens and Spanish moss.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Migration is early in both spring and fall, with Florida birds arriving February-March, departing August-September. Some migrate around Gulf of Mexico but most Florida birds apparently cross Caribbean; their migration is poorly known.

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Migration

Migration is early in both spring and fall, with Florida birds arriving February-March, departing August-September. Some migrate around Gulf of Mexico but most Florida birds apparently cross Caribbean; their migration is poorly known.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A shrill klee-klee-klee.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Hawks and Eagles Hawk-like Birds

Swallow-tailed Kite

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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