Swallow-tailed KiteElanoides forficatus

Kevin T. Karlson/VIREO
Brian E. Small/VIREO
Geoff Malosh/VIREO
nestlings near fledging
Fred Truslow/VIREO
Brian K. Wheeler/VIREO
Swallow-tailed Kite


22-24" (56-61 cm). W. 4' 2" (1.3 m). A graceful bird of prey, with long pointed wings and deeply forked tail; head and underparts white; back, wings, and tail black.


A shrill klee-klee-klee.


kli-kli-kli alarm calls given in flight
kli-kli-kli alarm calls given while perched


Swamps, marshes, river bottoms, and glades in open forests.


Breeds mainly on or near coasts from Texas east to Florida, and north to South Carolina; local farther inland in Gulf states. Winters in American tropics. Also breeds in tropics.


The Swallow-tailed Kite is the most aerial of our birds of prey. It catches much of its insect food on the wing, snatches lizards from the trunks of trees, eats what it has caught while flying, drinks by skimming the surface of ponds and marshes, and even gathers nesting material by breaking dead twigs from the tops of trees as it flies past. Formerly more abundant, this distinctive bird nested as far north as Minnesota and Illinois, but habitat destruction and indiscriminate shooting reduced it to its present range.


2-4 creamy-white eggs, boldly marked with brown, in a stick nest often lined with Spanish moss and usually in a tall tree.

Similar Species

adult male

Magnificent Frigatebird

38-40" (97-102 cm). W. 7'6" (2.3 m). Black with very long, narrow, pointed wings, deeply forked tail, and long hooked bill.


White-tailed Kite

15-16" (38-41 cm). W. 3' 4" (1 m). A delicate, graceful, gull-like bird of prey. Largely white, with gray back, black patch on shoulder and undersurface of the pointed wing, and white tail.

adult male

Mississippi Kite

12-14" (30-36 cm). W. 3' (91 cm). A small bird of prey with narrow pointed wings. Adult gray, paler below and on head; tail and outer flight feathers in wings blackish, inner flight feathers whitish.


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