Swallow-tailed Kite

All posts tagged Swallow-tailed Kite

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

Magical. Breathtaking. Incredible. Amazing. Effortless.

All are barely-adequate adjectives used by observers attempting to describe the flight of the Swallow-tailed Kite that traced graceful lines through the sky at Middle Run Natural Area last weekend.

The flight of the kite on Saturday evening is seared in the memories of those who witnessed it first-hand. Dramatic powerful glides skimming the tops of the pine trees, then a quick fold of the wings and a twisting downward dive in pursuit of a dragonfly. Rising back up, the kite would circle back and dive again. On the successful attempts, the kite would emerge clutching a Green Darner dragonfly in his small yellow talons, and proceed to tear the insect to pieces with his sharp beak. Dinner on the wing, and then back for seconds. And an extra helping of dragonfly for dessert!

Talons to beak, the Swallow-tailed kite polishes off another dragonfly morsel. Image by Derek Stoner.

There are currently 15 total records ( with 11 officially accepted so far) of Swallow-tailed Kites occurring in the State of Delaware according to Frank Rohrbacher of the Delaware Bird Records Committtee, so this bird is still quite a rarity. In almost all cases, these kites are seen flying over in the spring, gliding on by and sending folks scrambling for their cameras. For a Swallow-tailed Kite to stay in one place for two days and be the subject for literally thousands of photos is a testament to the uniqueness of this occurrence.

The Swallow-tailed Kite is admired by all who witness its flight. Image by Derek Stoner.

With a wingspan of four feet and weighing an average of 15 ounces (yes, barely one pound!) the kite is a flying machine par excellence. Kites rarely flap their wings, instead using their incredibly long tail to guide their body throgh the air currents as their wings take them for a ride.

Enjoy watching the video– if you missed seeing the kite, you can at least experience its flight through the wonders of technology!

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

What an unmistakeable profile the Swallow-tailed Kite cuts against the wide open sky! Image by Derek Stoner

“You are not going to believe this!”  The call came in from an excited Angel Burns, who described a bird she had seen while hiking with her daughter at Middle Run Natural Area this afternoon.   Two-year old Shay pointed out the unusual bird, and mother and daughter enjoyed a special audience with this spectacular bird for fifteen minutes as it soared effortlessly above their heads.

“You are  not going to believe this, but I think it is a Swallow-tailed Kite!”   I did not doubt her observation one bit, as the Swallow-tailed is simply known as the “Flying Fieldmark.”  That incredible shape, with long wings and a long forked tail, is unmistakeable.  The stark black and white pattern makes it evern more uniquely beautiful.

I quickly posted this incredible report to the Delaware Birds email alert, and immediately zipped down to Middle Run to see if I could re-locate this amazing bird.

Eating on the wing, a Swallow-tailed Kite devours a dragonfly freshly plucked from the pine trees. Image by Derek Stoner.

It goes without saying that a bird like this stands out, and in short order the kite was spotted in the distance.  It then looped overhead and descended back into Middle Run’s hayfields along Possum Park Road.

For over two hours, the kite soared back and forth over a grove of White Pine trees, diving dramatically into the trees and coming back up with dragonflies that it snagged with its tiny talons.  A crowd of thrilled birders gathered, savoring the sight of this fantastic rarity.

In late April into May, Swallow-tailed Kites often “over-shoot” their southern breeding grounds and wander north.  Carried by strong south winds and gliding, well, like a kite, these birds can travel tremendous distances in a short time.  just this past week in New Jersey, at least three different Swallow-tailed Kites made the bird hotline news. 

There is much more to this fascinating story of the Swallow-tailed at Middle Run.  A good bit of video showing the acrobatic flight of the kite will surely be shared soon.  Stay tuned for more on the kite report!