Historically the Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus) bred in the United States in at least 16 eastern states. Currently it is restricted to seven southeastern states, with most of its breeding range in Florida. Breeding Bird Surveys indicate a declining trend for this Neotropical migrant in most of Florida. Using a rapid survey technique at the Lower Suwannee NWR on 25-27 Mar. 1997, we scanned for kites from 16 sampling stations above the forest canopy, using 10X binoculars for 45 min per station. An effective detection distance of 2.4 km provided almost complete coverage of kite habitat (excluding salt marsh) on the refuge (14,620 ha) and in a 1.6-km buffer (13,526 ha). A mobile observation platform, extended to heights of 30-34 m provided an unobstructed view above the forest canopy where foraging bouts, feeding, courtship displays, and other activities by this species occur. This technique was found to be efficient in obtaining an estimate of potential breeding pairs. An estimated 19 breeding pairs were observed, with possibly five additional pairs, a density of at least one pair per 1173-1407 ha. There was no opportunity to search for nests so we were unable to correlate number of active nests with the number of kites observed, and linear nature of study area might concentrate birds, including nonbreeders, so our density of kites may or may not be typical for other areas. The refuge has a mosaic of 11 different habitats (7 forest types, freshwater and salt marshes, open water and urban/suburban) providing much linear edge to the matrix of different plant communities that range in height from less than 1 m to greater than 30 m. Such structure provides quality habitat for Swallow-tailed Kites.
Additional publication details
Density and habitat of breeding Swallow-tailed Kites in the lower Suwannee ecosystem, Florida