Swallow-tailed Kite Research and Conservation Project
The northern Swallow-tailed Kite experienced a severe population decline and dramatic reduction in breeding range from 1880 to 1910. The U.S. breeding range, which once spanned 21 states, is now limited to seven southeastern states: Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. Beginning in 2002, a single pair has sometimes nested in the White River Basin in Arkansas, but not every year. In 2013 a nest was found in North Carolina along the Cape Fear River. The current U.S. population size is precariously small, and may possibly consist of as few as 2,500 breeding pairs (Meyer 1995). The Swallow-tailed Kite was proposed as a Category 2 candidate for federal listing as a threatened or endangered species (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1985). The Orleans Audubon Society and other groups are collecting population data needed to support federal listing.
During the 2015 breeding season, we located and monitored 30 nests in the Lake Pontchartrain Basin, Louisiana, and the Pearl River and Strong River Basins in Louisiana and Mississippi and in Harris and Liberty counties, Texas. It was a highly successful breeding season, with 37 fledglings produced from this sample.
In 2016, we are continuing the search for nests and roost sites in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. The survey and monitoring work we are conducting in central Mississippi is funded by the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science (MMNS) and the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. Mississippi's Ornithologist, Nick Winstead, of MMNS, first suspected nesting along the Strong River because of sighting reports he received from the public. Please continue to report kites!
In 2016, we found and monitored 22 nests (11 in LA and 11 in MS). We also located 4 nesting neighborhoods in Texas. Ten (45%) of the nests we monitored failed. We were not always able to determine the cause of nest failure, but 2 adults tagged with a GPS-satellite transmitters have provided some clues. A nest on the Strong River failed when the male was killed by another raptor. A nest in Lacombe failed because the female probably died (cause of death not determined). The male was the one outfitted with the transmitter, and he suddenly changed his behavior by staying on the nest all day and night, indicating that something must have happened to his mate. A link below takes you to the tracking maps of the "Strong" and "Lacombe" males.
Fortunately, the successful nests enjoy a fairly high productivity rate. Twelve pairs produced 17 fledglings.
You can follow the global movements of each kite tagged by OAS and ARCI ornithologists. To see the tracking maps, go to: http://www.seaturtle.org/tracking/?project_id=665. Click on an individual kite to see its entire map, a zoomed in map, and even animation of the bird's route. The kites tagged by Orleans Audubon Society researchers are identified as: "Lacombe" "Strong River" “Pearl MS” “Slidell” and “Pasc.” We recommend that you also visit our partners at the Avian Research and Conservation Institute: www.arcinst.org.
Jennifer and Tom Coulson, OAS
Nick Winstead, MMNS
Kenneth Meyer and Gina Kent, ARCI
Mississippi Museum of Natural Science
Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks
The Coypu Foundation
The McDaniel Charitable Foundation
We Thank the Following Project Volunteers
Pat Brown, Donna Bush, Glynda Clardy, Jay Cliburn, Jennifer and Tom Coulson, Brett, Inga and Juniper Falterman, Linda Feringa, Joelle Finley, Ken Harris, Rufus Harris, Joseph Kennedy, Janine Robin, Glenn Ousset, Dave Patton, Matt Pontiff, Jason Price, Wesley Smith, and Dr. Ken Meyer and Gina Kent, Avian Research and Conservation Institute.
Juniper Falterman assisting with tagging
WE NEED YOUR HELP!
If you are as excited as we are about the kite project and want to help, here are several ways that you can get involved:
1. Tell your favorite teacher about our kite tracking site. See Tracking Swallow-tailed Kite Global Movements for an activity sheet for teens.
2. Report Swallow-tailed Kite sightings (details below).
3. ADOPT-a-KITE: Data retrieval for each tagged kite costs $100.00 per month or $1200 per year. You can help continue this project by adopting a kite and sending a check payable to "Orleans Audubon Society" and write "Adopt-a-Kite" on the memo line. Mail the check to: Mary Joe Krieger, OAS Treasurer, 3623 Nashville Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70125.
HAVE YOU SEEN THIS BIRD?
Please report sightings of the Swallow-tailed Kite. Sightings of nests, roosts, kites carrying nest material or food, locations where kites are seen regularly, and sightings of more than one kite are of particular interest. Your sightings will help the Orleans Audubon Society study this rare bird of prey.
Date of sighting
Location (please be as specific as possible)
Number of kites observed
Was there anything else of interest (e.g., carrying a snake)?
Your contact information
Report sightings in Louisiana and Mississippi to:
Coulson, J.O., S.J. Taft and T.D. Coulson. 2010. Gastrointestinal parasites of the Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus), including a report of lesions associated with the nematode Dispharynx sp. Journal of Raptor Research 44:208–214. Download the paper here: PDF
Coulson, J.O., T.D. Coulson, S.A. DeFrancesch, and T.W. Sherry. 2008. Predators of the Swallow-tailed Kite in southern Louisiana and Mississippi. Journal of Raptor Research 42:1–12. Download the paper here: PDF
Coulson, J. O. 2001. Swallow-tailed Kites carry passerine nests containing nestlings to their own nests. Wilson Bulletin 113:340–342. Download the paper here: PDF
Coulson, J. O. 2002. Mississippi Kites use Swallow-tailed Kite nests. Journal of Raptor Research 36:155–156. Download the paper here: PDF
Send an email request to: OrleansAudubon@aol.com to request .pdf electronic reprints.