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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

American Swallow-tailed Kite -- Elanoides forficatus
(formerly Swallow-tailed Kite)

RANGE: Breeds locally from South Carolina south to Florida, and west to Louisiana; occasionally to Great Lakes and New England and also Central and South America. Winters in South America.

STATUS: Locally common.

HABITAT: Inhabits open river bottom forests with adjacent semi-prairie land, freshwater marshes bordering large lakes, lowland cypress swamps, and pine glades.

SPECIAL HABITAT REQUIREMENTS: Very tall living trees for nesting.

NEST: Nests in the very tops of tall, slender living trees, usually 60 to 100 feet above ground, but up to 200 feet high. In Florida, usually nests in pines or in black mangroves. Selects trees in open, thinly wooded areas, or along the edge of trails or openings so the birds can approach the nest unimpeded. Other kites are tolerated near the nest, but not other hawks or eagles.

FOOD: Feeds entirely on the wing, primarily on flying insects, but also sweeps low over fields, forest canopies, and prairies to catch grasshoppers, crickets, cicadas, small snakes, lizards, and frogs. Also snatches young birds and eggs, and drinks while skimming the surface of a lake or pond.

REFERENCES: Brown and Amadon 1968, Heintzelman 1979, Oberholser 1974a, Terres 1980.

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