I think few of my birding colleagues will argue with me that kites are just about the coolest of all our native raptors in North America. However, I think that the one that is by far the neatest, most elegant and perhaps sought after is the Swallow-tailed Kite.
And now you can directly help in its conservation — just by reporting when you see one.
The species is quite widespread in the Americas, though in the United States it is a “neotropical” migrant, normally occurring in the breeding season in the southeastern states of South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.
Historically (19th century and before), interestingly enough, kites seem to have been far more widespread, breeding along the Mississippi River and its major tributaries as far north as Minnesota. Some of the other kite species regularly found in the United States include Mississippi Kite, White-tailed Kite and Snail Kite (the latter in Florida only).
Although not considered an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Swallow-tailed Kite gets a lot of attention in most of the states in which it occurs, particularly South Carolina.
In fact, conservationists, scientists, land managers, government agencies and everyone else interested in South Carolina have done a fantastic job of organizing themselves to learn more about this intriguing raptor under the banner of the “South Carolina Working Group for Swallow-tailed Kites.”
One of their signature achievements is creating a database to collect Kite observations from the general public to build a better understanding of where they occur throughout the southeastern United States. Now beginning its fourth year of collecting Kite observations (accumulating over 1,500 sightings annually), this project has been publicized through press releases, signs at boat landings and gas stations, information in local and regional publications and articles by the cooperating partners.
If you encounter a Swallow-tailed Kite in one of your wanderings, please report it through this on-line reporting form, administered by The Center for Birds of Prey. The data from this Citizen Science project are invaluable; for instance, The Nature Conservancy uses them for our conservation planning work as we help protect key habitat for the Kite and many other species at spectacular conservation areas such as Winyah Bay.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service established the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge to protect the Kite and its bottomland hardwood habitat where it breeds. Who knows, in your wanderings, you may even find one of the really unusal species of kites in the United States, like a Hook-billed Kite!
(Image: Swallow-tailed kite. Image credit: jerryoldenettel/Flickr through a Creative Commons license.)