Swallow-tailed Kite

Elanoides forficatus




Kites, Eagles and Hawks (Accipitridae)

Code 4


Code 6



Egg Color:

White with brown and lavender marks at large end

Number of Eggs:

2 - 3

Incubation Days:

24 - 28

Egg Incubator:

Both sexes

Nest Location:

In treetop., 60-130 feet above ground.

Nest Material:

Sticks, twigs, moss, and pine needles.





Swallow-tailed Kite: The largest of North America kites, this bird has black upperparts which contrast sharply with white head and underparts. In flight it shows long pointed wings with black flight feathers and white wing linings. Has a 15-16 inch-long black tail with a deep fork. Its neck, breast and belly are snow-white. Feet and bill are relatively small, tarsi short. Bill is black, cere dark bluish-gray, tarsi medium to light bluish-gray. Iris is dark brown or very slightly reddish-brown. Sexes are similar. Juvenile resembles adult, but flight feathers and tail are narrowly tipped with white, tail is shorter.

Range and Habitat

Swallow-tailed Kite: Breeds mainly on or near coasts from Texas east to Florida, where it may occur statewide, and extends north to South Carolina; occur locally inland in Gulf Coast states. Winters in American tropics, where it also may breed. Inhabits swamps, marshes, river bottoms, and glades in open forests.

Breeding and Nesting

Swallow-tailed Kite: Two to three white eggs with brown and lavender markings, often concentrated at the large end, are laid in a nest of sticks, twigs, moss, and pine needles. Nest is built by both sexes and placed in the treetop, 60-130 feet above ground, concealed by thick foliage. Nest is lined with leaves and lichen. Incubation ranges from 24 to 28 days and is carried out by both sexes. These birds have one brood per year.

Foraging and Feeding

Swallow-tailed Kite: This bird feeds on insects such as bees, dragonflies, crickets, cicadas, and beetles. Also consumes small snakes, lizards, frogs, and small birds, which are often taken from the treetops. All prey are captured with feet while in flight by gleaning from surface of vegetation, reaching within or underneath foliage, or snatching flying insects with barely perceptible strikes of the feet. Adults eat food while flying.


Swallow-tailed Kite: Utters shrill "ee-ee-ee" or "pee-pee-pee." When several fly together they make sweet shrill cries of "peat, peat, peat", "klee, klee, klee" or soft whistles.

Similar Species

Swallow-tailed Kite: Mississippi Kite has a slightly notched black tail and is gray overall.


Belly, undertail coverts, chest, flanks, and foreneck.

Back, rump, hindneck, wings, and crown.
The ventral part of the bird, or the area between the flanks on each side and the crissum and breast. Flight muscles are located between the belly and the breast.
The upper front part of a bird.
Also called the operculum, it is a smooth and featherless patch of skin located where the beak attaches to the forehead.
Flight feathersX
Located on the wing, and collectively called remiges (singular, remex). The long stiff feathers are subdivided into two major groups based on the location and are called primaries and secondaries.
Parts of a Standing bird X
Head Feathers and Markings X
Parts of a Flying bird X