Swallow-tailed Kite

The Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanus forficatus) is an elanid kite found in southern North America to northern South America. It was formerly named Falco forficatus.

Physical description

The species is around 55 to 65 cm in length, with a wingspan of approximately 1.3 m. Individuals of both sexes appear similar. The body is contrasting black and white. The flight feathers, tail, feet, bill are all black. Another characteristic is the forked tail, hence the name swallow-tailed. Juveniles are duller in color and the tail is not as deeply forked.

Habitat and migration

Swallow-tailed Kites inhabit mostly woodland and forested wetlands near their preferred nesting locations. Nests are built in trees, usually near water and both male and female participate in nest buildingt.

The species migrates over long distances to South America in the winter.

General behavior

Even though this species is mostly silent, sometime a high-pitched chirp can be heard.

The Swallow-tailed Kite feeds on small reptiles and insects, and drinks by skimming the surface and collecting water in their bills.

Mating occurs from March to May, with the female laying 2 to 4 eggs. Incubation lasts 28 days, and 36 to 42 days to fledge.


Swallow-tailed Kites are considered endangered or threatened in the United States. Destruction of habitats is chiefly responsible for the decline in numbers. A key conservation area is the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge in Florida.