Birds – Swallow-tailed Kite

Although there is perhaps some doubt as to the correctness of the reference of our Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides Forficatus) to this subfamily, Mr. Pycraft is of the opinion that it should be so placed. In external form it certainly resembles the true Kites, but anatomically it is said to be quite different. It is a handsome bird, from twenty to twenty-five inches long, with the head, neck, entire lower parts, and a band across the rump pure white, while the back, wings, and deeply forked tail are polished black. It is found throughout the warm-temperate portions of continental America, coming north in the summer to Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota, and along the Atlantic coast casually to Pennsylvania and southern New England. It is more or less gregarious, ranging in flocks of three to often a dozen or more. Dr. William L. Ralph, who had excellent opportunities of observing this species in Florida, wrote of it to Major Bendire as follows : ” Excepting, perhaps, the Turkey Vulture, I think this bird is the most graceful of any while on the wing. It has the same easy floating motion, but at times it flies very rapidly and turns very quickly, which is something I have never seen the former birds do. Their motions are very swallow-like, and that, with their forked tails, makes them look like gigantic Barn Swallows; and like the Chimney Swifts they have a habit of traveling together in small companies, usually consisting of three individuals, especially when they first return from the south. During the breeding season flocks consisting of from two or three to ten or twelve birds, but oftener of three, may be seen following one another around, frequently uttering their call and circling in and out among the treetops so fast as to make one dizzy to look at them. Except during this season one seldom sees one of these birds unless it is flying, and I have often wondered if they did not at times sleep while on the wing. At least I know that they usually, if not always, eat while flying, for I have many times seen one sailing leisurely along, occasionally bending its head to tear a piece from a small snake that it held in its talons, and I have never seen one alight to eat its food, as other birds of prey do. Their food consists almost entirely of reptiles. Small snakes seem to be a favorite article of food with them. I never have seen one catch a bird, and believe they do not.”

They nest mainly in the top of very slender pine trees, rarely below ninety feet from the ground and often as high as one hundred thirty feet. The nest is rather a rude affair of sticks and moss, and the eggs usually two in number, though three and rarely four have been found. The eggs are oval in shape with an ashy white or delicate cream ground color, spotted and blotched with different shades of brown.