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Swallow-tailed Kite

Elanoides forficatus

Length: 22 inches Wingspan: 50 inches Seasonality: Rare Visitor
ID Keys: Unmistakable deeply forked tail.  White underparts and head with dark wings and tail.

Swallow-tailed Kite - Elanoides forficatusThe range of the Swallow-tailed Kite once stretched through much of the southeastern United States, with stragglers ranging as far north as South Dakota and Minnesota.  The present U.S. range of the species is now largely restricted to Florida, and locally elsewhere in the extreme Southeast.  

Habitat: Primarily found in wooded swamps with nearby open land. 

Diet: Feeds primarily on large insects.  Also eats lizards, snakes, frogs, and young birds. Known to also feed on fruit on its wintering grounds.

Behavior: An extremely graceful and beautiful flyer, capable of a very wide range of flying maneuvers.  Catches insects while in flight, and will feed while in flight.  Will also capture prey from vegetation, usually catching them by flying by and not stopping. 

Breeding Map: Non-breeder in South Dakota

Song: Thin high whistle.

Migration: Summers in Florida and locally elsewhere in the extreme Southeast. A long-distance migrant, wintering in South America.

Interactive eBird map: Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Swallow-tailed Kite sightings

Similar Species: Generally unmistakable if seen well.  General shape can suggest Frigatebirds (don't have to worry about that much in South Dakota).

Status: The Swallow-tailed Kite historically had a much larger range than it does now.  Numbers are generally stable within its current U.S. range, and it may be beginning to expand its range again in some areas. The IUCN considers the Swallow-tailed Kite to be a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information: 1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Swallow-tailed Kite

2) WhatBird - Swallow-tailed Kite

3) Audubon Guide - Swallow-tailed kite

Photo Information: Photo by Joe Crovo - Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License.


Click on the range map for a higher-resolution view
Swallow-tailed Kite - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Accidental, with no records in the state since 1910 according to the SDOU's "Birds of South Dakota".  However, a bird appeared in Mitchell  in the fall of 2007, thrilling birders by staying around for a number of days.

Additional Swallow-tailed Kite Photos (coming soon!)