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Swallow-tailed Kite
Elanoides forficatus

Status: Lower risk

Population Trend: Stable.

Other Names: American Swallow-tailed Hawk, Northern Swallow-tailed Kite (forficatus), Southern Swallow-tailed Kite (yetapa).

Elanoides forficatus
click to enlarge
Distribution: Nearctic/Neotropical. Southern UNITED STATES in lowlands south to PERU and northern ARGENTINA; northern populations winter in South America and austral breeding populations move north in the non-breeding season. more....

Subspecies: 2 races. E. f. forficatus: Southeastern UNITED STATES (eastern Texas to South Carolina south to Florida; formerly north to Oklahoma, Kansas, Minnesota, and Ohio); winters in South America, mainly in BRAZIL, but south to ARGENTINA; E. f. yetapa: Southern MEXICO (except Yucatan Peninsula) south through humid Central and South America to BOLIVIA, PERU, PARAGUAY, URUGUAY, and northeastern ARGENTINA (Misiones); TRINIDAD; birds breeding south to Panama winter south to southern BRAZIL and ARGENTINA, and austral breeders also migrate to lower latitudes during the non-breeding season.

Taxonomy: Formerly placed in the genus Milvulus. Griffiths et al. (2007) found that Leptodon and Elanoides are sister taxa and that they are basal to all other Accipitridae, except for Elanus and Gampsonyx.

Movements: Partial migrant (Bildstein 2006). The nominate race, forficatus, of Florida, is a complete, trans-equatorial migrant, and austral populations (from Espirito Santo, Brazil south) of yetapa migrate northward in the non-breeding season. Most southbound kites from the United States evidently pass over Cuba, and many, perhaps most, use the Yucatan Peninsula as a stopover area. Individuals nesting at higher elevations descend to lowlands in the non-breeding season in some parts of South America, including Brazil, and birds from more southern regions immigrate northward in winter, appearing periodically in larger flocks (Sick 1993). This species also seems to engage in local movements, includng altitudinal migration, in the non-breeding season in Central and South America, and in some areas, e.g., French Guiana, numbers seem to fluctuate daily (Thiollay 2007). more....

Habitat and Habits: Lowlands and foothills; northern passage migrants occur at higher elevations in Costa Rica and probably elsewhere. Occurs in diverse habitats, including open country, bottomland forests, pine forests (northern portion of range), swamps, wet savannas, and even areas of fragmented patches of forest. Often occurs in groups from 5-30 or more individuals, particularly during migration, and such birds often soar more than 500 m off the ground (Latta et al. 2006). more....

Food and Feeding Behavior: Feeds on insects (termite and ant swarms), lizards, snakes, tree frogs, bird eggs and nestlings, and occasionally fruit. Constantly soars, capturing insect prey and feeding on the wing, or snatching prey from treetops, which it often consumes in flight. more....

Breeding: The nest is a flimsy, shallow cup of twigs lined with Spanish moss (Tillandsia) or Usnea and placed very high (>30 m) in the crown of a tall tree (Skutch 1965, ffrench 1991). Several pairs may nest in close proximity. Clutch size is 2 or 3 eggs, which are white with bold brown markings. Both parents incubate eggs and feed young. more....

Conservation: Conservation Dependent in United States (forficatus) and Lower Risk (yetapa) in the Neotropics. Fairly common to common in most regions. Habitat loss is an ever-present threat to the U.S. population, particularly the removal of groves of tall trees where pre-migrant flocks gather in large numbers in late summer. The reasons for its disappearance from most of its formerly extensive breeding range in the central United States are not known. Categorized as a species of "Least Concern" by BirdLife International (2008), who suggested that populations may have increased. more....

Important References: 
Azevedo, M.A.G., and M. Di-Bernardo. 2005. [Natural history and
  conservation of the Swallow-tailed Kite, Elanoides forficatus, on Santa
  Catarina Island, southern Brazil]. Ararajuba 13:81-88. (In Portuguese with
  English summary)
Azevedo, M.A.G., A.L. Roos, J.L.B. Albuquerque, and V.d.Q. Piacentini.
  2000. [Breeding and food habits of the Swallow-tailed Kite, Elanoides
(Falconiformes: Accipitridae), on Santa Catarina Island, SC -
  Brazil]. Melopsittacus 3:122-127.
Bent, A.C. 1937. Life histories of North American birds of prey. Order
  Falconiformes (Part 1). U.S. National Museum Bulletin 167.
Bierregaard, R.O. 1994. American Swallow-tailed Kite. Pp. 112-113 in del
  Hoyo, J., A. Elliott, and J. Sargatal (eds). Handbook of birds of the world.
  Vol. 2. New World vultures to guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.
Gerhardt, R.P., D.M. Gerhardt, and M.A. Vásquez. 1997. Siblicide in
  Swallow-tailed Kites. Wilson Bulletin 109:112-120.
Ferguson-Lees, J., and D.A. Christie. 2001. Raptors of the world. Houghton
  Mifflin, Boston, MA.
Gerhardt, R.P., D.M. Gerhardt, and M.A. Vásquez. 2012. Swallow-tailed
  Kite. Pp. 60-67 in D.F. Whitacre (ed.), Neotropical birds of prey: biology
  and ecology of a forest raptor community. Cornell University Press, Ithaca,
Meyer, K.D. 1995. Swallow-tailed Kite Elanoides forficatus. In A. Poole
  and F. Gills (eds.), The Birds of North America no. 138. Academy of Natural
  Sciences, Philadelphia, PA.
Meyer, K.D., and M.W. Collopy. 1996. American Swallow-tailed Kite. Pp.
  188-196 in J. Rodgers, H.H. Kale, and H. Smith (eds.),
  Endangered biota of Florida. Vol. 5. Birds. University Press of Florida,
Robertson, W.B., Jr. 1988. American Swallow-tailed Kite. Pp. 109-131 in
  R.S. Palmer (ed.), Handbook of North American birds. Vol. 4. Yale University
  Press, New Haven, CT.
Skutch, A.F. 1965. Life history notes on two tropical American kites.
  Condor 67:235-246.
Snyder, N.F.R. 1974. Breeding biology of Swallow-tailed Kites in Florida.
  Living Bird 12:73-97.

Sites of Interest:
Kite Site 2000
Powered by the Avian Research and Conservation Institute, Kite Site 2000 provides information focused on the migration, survival and conservation of the Swallow-tailed Kite.
Swallow-tailed Kite photos.
Aves de Rapina do Brasil
Species account, with emphasis on Brazil.

Azevedo, Marcos Antônio Guimarães
Bildstein, Keith
Coulson, Jennifer O.
Gerhardt, Richard (Rick)
Mealey, Brian
Mojica, Libby
Olivo Quiroga, Cristian E.
Rodríguez Santana, Freddy
Tejeda-Tellez, Arianna G.

Last modified: 7/27/2012

Recommended Citation: Global Raptor Information Network. 2020. Species account: Swallow-tailed Kite Elanoides forficatus. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 25 Sep. 2020

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