You all have taken some incredible photos over the past year. When you share your personal moments on the trail, a larger audience of folks get a view of the watershed, wildlife, and recreational opportunities throughout the CREW project. Thank you for sharing your experiences with all of us!
We hope these magnificent moments caught on camera inspire folks to support, visit, and explore the CREW trails, like the photographers before them!
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Thanks for sharing
The photos you share tell a rich story, communicating the kind of impact we can all play in wildlife conservation. With a camera, visitors can safely view wildlife behavior in their natural habitats and learn to appreciate their existence. When wildlife is given the space needed to live out their natural lives, we all benefit.
These days social media plays a large role in the effort to help conserving wildlife. Reaching a large audience creates a link between the individuals that frequent the trails with those that view it from a distance. The bridge that is crossed has a lasting impact, providing us a sense of place in nature.
We actually look forward to the arrival of the Swallow-tailed Kites with something akin to the anticipation of a birthday or holiday.
And when the first birds arrive, the flurry of emails start as people brag about who saw the very first STK of the season.
We’re crazy about kites at the CREW Project and we know some of you are, too. Here are 10 reasons we love Swallow-Tailed Kites.
1 – Aerodynamics
We could watch kites soar all day long. As one of our volunteers pointed out, the entire design of the bird is aerodynamic and sleek, as if their body is made to slide right through the air. They swoop effortlessly and gracefully to grab prey and it’s while soaring that we are able to easily identify them by their long, forked tail.
2 – Migration patterns
Swallow-tailed kites migrate to Southwest Florida each year from South America to breed. We are their first stop on their winter migration and they normally arrive here in the third or fourth week of February, then gradually later through the rest of Florida, according to the Birds of North America website. Once the adults arrive, they begin gathering nesting material and prepare nests often in the same spot or vicinity as they nested the previous year. Swallow-tailed kites will stay in our area until June or July, and then the adults leave several weeks prior to the juveniles’ departure.
Swallow-tailed kites are raptors, but they do not have particular strong feet or talons. That’s why they use Spanish moss as nesting material! They have been seen carrying very small, lightweight sticks, but their primary nesting material is Spanish moss. They also nest very high in the “V” of pine trees which make the nests challenging to spot. And, once they chicks hatch, the adults continue to add nesting materials. So, a nest that starts out convex to hold an egg, will eventually become concave as the chick grows!
(Thank you, Kathleen Smith, CREW biologist, for that fun fact)
4 – Challenge
Everything about the Swallow-tailed kite is challenging! Have you ever tried to get a GOOD PHOTO? Especially of one flying? It’s extremely difficult and we’ve watched plenty of wildlife photographers on the trail gasp in frustration as the birds soar past. And it’s not just capturing the birds on film that is tough – finding the nests is also hard! Because the nests are so high in the trees, and only made sparsely with Spanish moss, they are difficult to find. But, once you have found the nest, you can go back each year and check for activity. For our biologists and volunteer citizen scientists, that challenge is part of the fun of monitoring the kites.
From the beautiful snow-white head and underbody to the sleek inky wings and back, the kite is a study in contrasting colors. It makes them easily recognizable in the raptor family – for their color and for their forked tail.
6 – The Tail
That gorgeous, v-shaped tail is how all of us easily identify the Swallow-tailed Kite. And, as we inch towards summer, we can tell the juvenilles in flight from the adults because the adults will have longer forked tails than the juvenilles.
7- Feeding time fun
Part of loving raptors is loving the fat that they do raptor stuff – meaning we aren’t upset when we see a bird of prey carrying home dinner. The kites are no exception. They will eat large insects, but remember, they do not have strong feet so they don’t pick up heavy prey. Instead, they mainly eat herps – frogs, anoles and snakes. As a hiker and birder, it can be quite fun to try and puzzle out what they are carrying home to feed their chicks.
8 – Nice Neighbors
One thing that makes them different from other raptors is that the kites will nest near other kites, forming loose neighborhoods (thanks for that name, Kathleen!). That makes it a bit easier for our citizen scientists and the CREW biologists when locating nests. It also makes for easy playdate scheduling (just kidding, birds don’t have playdates).
9 – The CREW Trust Logo
The Swallow-tailed Kite is the bird featured on our logo! We are very proud of the kites, and the fact that the 60,000-acre Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed is land preserved for water and wildlife and provides habitat for these migratory raptors.
10 – Bringing Friends
The nest monitoring done each year by CREW FWC biologists and volunteers has shown that the numbers of swallow-tailed kites nesting within the 60,000-acres is growing! That’s exciting for us and great news for the birds. You have a really good chance of seeing Swallow-tailed Kites at all four of the CREW Project Trails. They roost around the lake at Bird Rookery Swamp (hike out to the lake, under two miles); they swoop over the red trail at Flint Pen Strand; they have a LOT of nests around the Cypress Dome Trails; and we spot them in the pine flatwoods areas of the CREW Marsh Trails. We hope you’ll celebrate the return of the kites – and their growing population within CREW – by coming out with your friends and exploring the trails in hopes of spotting a kite or two.
special thanks to CREW FWC staff and CREW Trust Volunteers for sharing the photos used in this blogpost.
Volunteer naturalist and CREW Trust citizen scientist Dick Brewer shared his most recent critter count and photos from Bird Rookery Swamp. We hope you find time to hit the trails and maybe catch a few glimpses of these birds, insects, reptiles, amphibians and mammals!
Black-bellied Whistling Duck – 6
Anhinga – 1
Great Egret – 3
Little Blue Heron – 6
Tri-colored Heron – 3
Black-crowned Night Heron – 2 Black Vulture – 8
Turkey Vulture – 9
Swallow-tailed Kite – 3
Red-shouldered Hawk – 8
Limpkin – 8
Mourning Dove – 5
Common Ground Dove – 5
Yellow-billed Cuckoo – 3
Red-bellied Woodpecker – 23
Pileated Woodpecker – 8
Blue Jay – 1
American Crow – 1
Tufted Titmouse – 2
Carolina Wren – 13 Northern Mockingbird – 5
White-eyed Vireo – 10
Northern Cardinal – 20
Common Grackle – 4
Volunteer naturalist Dick Brewer donates a lot of time to FWC and the CREW Trust collecting data. From his animal counts on hikes to assisting with Swallow-tailed kite nest monitoring, Dick plays a valuable role as a citizen scientist. This week he spent a long morning hiking the Cypress Dome Trails and Caracara Prairie Preserve. The area is getting quite wet with the week of rain and the marshes are filling up, attracting a lot of wading birds. Check out his observations below from his hike – and this amazing photo he snapped of a Swallow-tailed kite flying back to its nest with a tree frog as a snack.
For the last two weeks, the CREW Trust staff and FWC biologists have been anxiously watching the skies.
It’s Swallow-tailed Kite time.
Reports trickled in from our volunteers. Jayne posted on Facebook that she saw kites during a hike with students from FGCU on the Marsh Trails . Peggy sent us an email that she saw two at the observation tower at the same trails and they were “calling like crazy!”
I led a small group of volunteers through trail steward training on Sunday and kept one eye on the sky but still, no sightings.
Swallow-tailed kites come to SWFL to breed and are always spotted mid-February, right around Valentine’s Day. Sightings are not limited to our trails, but the birds do require tall trees for nesting and tend to choose open pinewoods near marshes or cypress swamps as their habitat.
In other words, CREW is great breeding spot for them.
The kites will be here until late August. If you’re eager to spot one or two, head out to Cypress Dome Trails (3980 Corkscrew Road) or CREW Marsh Trails (4600 Corkscrew Road) and keep your eyes on the skies!
Swallow-tailed Kites are some of the most graceful and beautiful birds gliding and soaring through the skies over Southwest Florida from February through August during their nesting and pre-migration roosting seasons. They are also very popular: drawings of Swallow-tailed Kites are featured elements in the CREW and Great Florida Birding Trail logos.
Swallow-tailed Kite nest monitoring is currently being conducted in CREW and its adjoining lands in order to better understand the habitat needs for their nesting and foraging success in Southwest Florida.
Swallow-tailed Kites once nested in 21 states. Records from the 1800s show nesting pairs as far north as Minnesota and Wisconsin. Then the population underwent a sudden decline. By 1940, the kite’s range had shrunk to seven states from coastal South Carolina to eastern coastal Texas and all of the Florida panhandle.
Currently, fewer than 2500 nesting pairs are believed to exist in the United States (*ARCI 2016). Hence, the need for monitoring and research so that land managers can understand the optimal conservation approaches to preserving the habitats that sustain the kites.
A number of factors contribute to the vulnerability of Swallow-tailed Kites.
They have high mortality during their summer migration between the southern United States and southern Brazil when they fly across the Gulf of Mexico and again when they fly back to the United States the following spring. They do not usually begin breeding until they are three to four years old, and nesting adults and their young are subject to predation by Great Horned Owls. Plus, there just aren’t very many of them.
Habitat loss is also a factor in their decline. Freshwater forested wetlands and cypress swamps, where the birds nest, have been dwindling for centuries. Since the 1700s, about half the nation’s wetlands have disappeared, threatened by agriculture, development, logging, dams, dredging and invasive species, as well as natural disturbances like hurricanes. The rate of wetlands loss has wavered, but it hasn’t stopped: A 2011 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report found that wetland losses were outdistancing gains, especially in those freshwater forested wetlands the kites need.
Habitat is more important for kites than some other species because Swallow-tailed Kites are one of the very few social raptors. They forage in groups, nest in “neighborhoods,” and roost in groups. That makes them especially vulnerable; being social ties large groups of them to a single place. If those places where they forage, nest, and roost are not protected, the population will decline further.
This spring, FWC biologists and CREW volunteers have been monitoring 10 different nests in and around the CREW lands. Those nests have produced 12 known kite fledglings, and four more are suspected to have fledged.
Data about the nest locations, habitats, and activities are housed at the CREW office. They will be added to FWC’s Habitat and Species Conservation migratory bird database once it is complete. In addition, the CREW data is available for use by the FWRI (Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, the branch of FWC that conducts wildlife research) and by the Avian Research and Conservation Institute which monitors kites nationally.
Locally, the data will be used in a couple of ways.
First, FWC is interested in collecting data on which avian species are breeding on the CREW Management Area property and what type of success these species have from year to year.
Second, using the nests discovered this year, a finer model of CREW’s kite nesting habitat can be created by using the data collected at the nest tree and surrounding habitat. Then, desirable habitats can be maintained and created.
However, preserving habitat for kites is not as simple as just figuring out where the birds are nesting right now. It’s also necessary to determine where they could thrive in the future. That information will be crucial for land managers throughout the kite range.
Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission biologist Kathleen Smith shot this photo of a swallow-tailed kite roost in Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary just over the CREW Bird Rookery Swamp border while doing wading bird survey flights over CREW in June.
Swallow-tailed kites migrate to southwest Florida from South America (Brazil) to nest during our spring/summer seasons. By June, the young are fledging and flying with the adults in preparation for their journey back to South America in August. Here, you can count as many as 19 birds roosting together on one tree with a few others scattered in nearby trees.
The Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed (CREW) provides critical habitat for this at-risk species. Your support of CREW and other conservation organizations that protect habitat helps species like these kites survive.
In these hot, humid days of summer most of us humans try to stay indoors or in the shade to stay cool. But if you happen to step outside and gaze to the sky – especially at CREW – you may just witness one of the most spectacular sightings in all of southwest Florida. Swallow-tailed kites (Elanoides forficatus) migrate to Florida from Brazil each spring to build nests and raise their young throughout our summer rainy season.
As August arrives, these graceful kites can be seen more often in groups flying overhead, often feeding their young, and staging or gathering in large communal groups as they prepare for their 3000-mile journey back to Brazil. The adults and their young offspring (just 2 months old) will head south again in mid-August and we won’t see them again until late February to mid-March. We’ve been seeing them in groups of 20 – 25 regularly at Bird Rookery Swamp and in smaller groups of 12 – 15 around the CREW Marsh Trails and field office. Those groups will get larger as the month goes on, until one day soon when they all head south again.
So, if you want to get a last look at these magnificent birds, head on out to one of the CREW Trails early one morning soon. Listen for their piercing whistles and watch their pre-migration antics. It’s worth every minute of your time!
To learn more about swallow-tailed kites, go here.