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The Endangered Swallow-tailed Kite Offers Golden Isles Spectators An Impressive Show of Aerobatics

Swallow Tailed Kite Pair Perching
Photo courtesy of Eugene Kelley - www.naturefocusart.com.

Seeing a Swallow-tailed Kite gracefully gliding and soaring on air-currents just above the treetops can be a captivating site for even the most reticent of bird watchers.

The scientific name for the Swallow-tailed Kite,  Elanoides forficatus, is derived from the Greek: elanos meaning kite, oideous which means resembling, and forficatus which translates as deeply forked, referring to its long forked tail.  Peering up from below the swallow-tailed kite as it flies overhead you will see that its underbelly, head, and the wing feathers closest to its body are white, which is in sharp contrast to its wing tips, tail feathers and bill which are black. The adults display greater contrasting color and longer tail feathers than the juveniles, making it possible to chronologically age them when they congregate in numbers.

This strikingly beautiful bird grows to be about 22-24 inches in length with a wingspan of about 50 inches. In constant motion while airborne, it uses its long, forked tail to maintain balance, while its eagle-eye is on constant alert. This makes the Swallowtail kite a formidable predator to the frogs, lizards, small fish, snakes, nestlings, eggs and large insects that abound in its territory.  Once it catches its prey, it will usually eat it while continuing to fly in the air, bending its head and neck down to reach its victim clutched in its foot. It drinks by skimming the surface of water while collecting the water in its bill. Sometimes you may hear kites soaring above emit a high-pitched chirp or whistling sound, but usually they fly silently.



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