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Chew Your Food-The Swallow-tailed Kite

August 2, 2010

How long does it take to eat a few cheeseburgers and a shake? If you’re going to eat junk food you should eat least take the time to savor the grade D beef and triple-thick, corn syrup shake that requires a ¼ inch wide straw to drink it through. I watched incredulously the other day as the man in the car next to me at an intersection devoured his lunch like a gator eating a softshell turtle. Chomp. Swallow. Next. Eating really should take place in front of the television as nature intended it.

Just as I take exception to the feeding habits of carbivores, I wonder how much enjoyment eating is for the Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus). I’ve never seen a STK that wasn’t in flight. I’ve never seen a Skunk Ape or a Florida Panther either but I think I may see one or both of those first. It’s that rare.

Just about everyone has flown a kite, the string-tethered toy that can stay aloft for hours if the wind and operator cooperate. The toy is named after the bird of which there are several species found around the globe. Here in Florida we have the Snail Kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis), Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippiensis) and the split-tailed STK. All of them ride updrafts and thermals to stay aloft, mixed with the occasional wing flap, but the STK feeds on the wing, meaning the dragonflies and other flying insects they enjoy noshing on are caught and eaten as they fly. They also swoop to capture lizards from the treetops.

The Kite pictured here was one of five STKs circling above me at the Harns Marsh in Lehigh Acres, FL. This one appears to be a juvenile. The tail is shorter than a typical adult’s tail and the fanned tail feathers don’t have the pronounced fork like the adults do. The birds cried a wheezy ki-ki-ki as they picked off dragonflies above the marsh, each twitch of the tail gracefully steering the bird into a smooth banking turn, dive or ascent. Within seconds of noticing me, the birds were 100 feet higher, apparently not appreciating being watched as they ate.

The guy eating his lunch in traffic had no such qualms.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Jake Paredes permalink
    August 2, 2010 8:55 am

    We always see the Swallow-tailed Kites perched on trees especially during the nesting season. See my Swallow-tailed Kite pictures at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jake_paredes/sets/72157619823350225/

  2. Carol Cassels permalink
    August 2, 2010 11:33 pm

    Hi Pete, I love your articles, especially because I am a native Floridian and love the outdoors and wildlife and photography. I’m writing to let you know that I have also seen the STK swoop into the treetops to take nestling baby birds. It’s not a pretty sight, but it’s all part of the circle of life I suppose. I also have pictures of the STK with the baby bird clutched in its talons and then was able to capture a shot of when the STK brought its feet up to its mouth to start munching on the still live screaming baby bird. It is a little disturbing, especially because I started to wonder as a nature lover, “why do we dislike crows and vultures and other ‘ugly’ birds that take other birds’ babies, but we don’t dislike kites and hawks and falcons for doing the same thing. Because we admire them as beautiful and strong and swift and majestic and think of that as a natural act?” Interesting …

    Thanks for your wonderful articles.

    Carol

  3. Gator Man permalink
    August 3, 2010 10:40 am

    Hi Pete!

    I always enjoy watching the STKs floating just above treetop, searching for a meal. I’ve seen Mockingbirds and Grackles team up to chase them off.

    Recently there was a pair that nested in Riverbend Park, Jupiter, FL. I spent some time there with a mutual friend, Marie, who is a Park Ranger there. We watched them construct their nest way up in the top of a Slash Pine.

  4. Rosemary Allen permalink
    August 10, 2010 4:39 pm

    Hi Pete,

    I have also seen them take chicks from the nest as well as baby squirrels from the tree tops. Check out the picture of the squirrel eating kite on my blog. They look awkward on the branch though but they have found a way to do it. I noticed that the kite tends to use his wing like an arm to hold onto the larger prey as he strips the flesh off. They are very versatile.
    http://floridagreenbean.blogspot.com/

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