How the Swallow-tailed Kite Soars With Such Grace

The sleek raptor appears to slide through the sky without ever having to flap its wings.

This audio story is brought to you by BirdNote, a partner of The National Audubon Society. BirdNote episodes air daily on public radio stations nationwide.


This is BirdNote.

Some birds are wonderfully graceful in flight. Swallows spring to mind, with their deft swoops and glides. But there's a bird of prey in the American Southeast that takes grace to an utterly new level: the Swallow-tailed Kite. 

A Swallow-tailed Kite, even perched, is a lovely bird. It’s a slim, sleek raptor, with a pure white head and underside, offset by exceptionally long, slender black wings. True to its name, it sports a long, deeply forked black tail.

A Swallow-tailed Kite in flight almost never flaps its wings. Instead, the kite uses its tail to pivot and twist to guide its movements. The bird can make sudden, tight turns, upside-down moves, and quick backward dives. Its aerial maneuvers hardly seem like flight at all, more like slipping and sliding across the air.

Kites catch all their prey on the wing, snatching large flying insects out of the air and taking lizards and snakes off leaves in the trees with their talons. Then, in a magician-quick motion, the kite transfers its prey from its talons to its hooked beak. 

Spring or summer is the time to see Swallow-tailed Kites in the Southeast. Then they’re off to South America, covering hundreds or thousands of miles, all with hardly a flap of the wing.

For BirdNote, I’m Mary McCann.



Written by Bob Sundstrom

Producer: John Kessler

Managing Producer: Jason Saul

Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone

Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. 133304 recorded by Martha J. Fischer.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.

© 2017 Tune In to 

July/August 2017    ID#  STKI-01-2017-08-08    STKI-01​