Well, that was certainly a very rainy week, wasn't it? Every time we had a few minutes to go outside and see what was happening in My Florida Backyard, it was either sprinkling, pouring, or something in between. There's no doubt we needed the rain (you could practically hear the plants sighing in happiness), but it definitely kept us inside most of the time. It was nice to get outside for a few minutes this weekend (yowza, it's hot now!) and see what's going on. While we were taking a stroll around the yard our attention was drawn up, up, high in the sky by some high-pitched calls.
Those tiny little dots are a group of Swallow-Tail Kites (Elanoides forficatus), more than we've ever seen at one time before. We usually see them in pairs, at most, so to see so many together was pretty exciting. We thought maybe it was a family group, but we can't seem to find any information indicating that a family group would be this large (we counted at least eight total) or that they would stay together like this.
The scientific name Elanoides is a Latin-Greek hybrid meaning "resembling a kite", while forficatus means "scissors" - referring to the forked tail. A Kite is a type of raptor with long wings and weak legs - they are almost always seen soaring in flight. They hunt and eat in flight as well; the Swallow-Tail Kite plucks its prey, including large insects and lizards, from the treetops as it flies. It drinks by skimming the surface of the water with its bill as it flies low over the surface.
Swallow-Tail Kites are seen during the summer in a limited range in the Southeast, including all of Florida. They reside in South America year-round, but when breeding season arrives, the spread out to the north to ensure everyone has enough food for their young. They nest in forested areas near water, and much of their range in the U.S. has been decimated by development (they were once found as far north as Oklahoma). If you spot Swallow-Tailed Kites, you can help track them by reporting your sighting to The Center For Birds of Prey - click here to learn more.
We can't take credit for creating the habitat that brings Swallow-Tail Kites to our neighborhood; we owe that to the last patch of undeveloped woodland nearby (at least the crummy economy has kept that from being bought and torn down!) and all the stormwater drainage ponds in the area. But we can definitely enjoy having them here, and knowing that our bit of Florida still has amazing wildlife just about everywhere you look.