Bible Birds – Swallow-tailed Kites

Swallow-tailed Kite by S Slayton

Swallow-tailed Kite by S Slayton

and the red kite, the falcon, and the kite in their kinds, (Deuteronomy 14:13 NASB)

In the Birds of the Bible – Hidden Covenant Part 3, I mistakenly placed this photo of a Swallow-tailed Kite instead of a Swallow. I have since fixed my mistake. A J was talking about the Swallows observing the time of their coming and he used Jeremiah 8:7.

Even the stork in the heavens Knows her appointed times; And the turtledove, the swift, and the swallow Observe the time of their coming. But My people do not know the judgment of the LORD. (Jeremiah 8:7 NKJV)

The reason I mixed them up is because right now, in this area, the Swallow-tailed Kites are being spotted. I have seen a single one three times and just the other day, Dan and I had two of them skim over the top of trees, right in front of us. They have been in the area for a month or so, and soon they will move on again. They “Observe the time of their coming.” Thus the mistake on my part.

They may be one of the Birds of Prey, but they were beautifully created by the Lord. They are so graceful and enjoyable to watch. I am always amazed at the Creator’s use of such variety in the birds and in all the other neat things around us.

God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, which the waters brought forth abundantly, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good (suitable, admirable) and He approved it. (Genesis 1:21 AMP)

According to the Audubon WatchList, “Two subspecies found in the Americas. Northern subspecies (Elanoides forficatus forficatus) breeds in small sections of seven southeastern U.S. states and in southern Mexico. Members of this group migrate to South America in the late summer. Southern subspecies (Elanoides forficatus yetapa) found through much of South America. The estimated U.S. population of approximately 10,000 birds now breeds in fragmented populations from South Carolina south to Florida and west to Louisiana/Texas border with largest known populations in northern Florida. Formerly bred north to Minnesota and west through Texas to Mexico. Significant populations remain in Florida and along the Pascagoula River in Mississippi.”

I really enjoy seeing these Kites because you just have to be looking in the right direction at the right time. Every time they have been spotted by us, they just sort of “appear” over the tops of the trees. They skim so low, that when they come over you, you either see them or you don’t.

Kites are of course one of our Bible Birds – (Glede and Kites). They are mentioned twice in Scripture in the list of “unclean” birds in Leviticus 11:14 and Deuteronomy 14:13. Each time “after its kind” is given. So, our Swallow-tailed Kite is one of those kinds and would like to introduce you to this amazing bird that is so neat to watch flying. When they spread that tail of theirs, it is just super neat.

Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus) ©Wikipedia

Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus) ©Wikipedia

(Sounds from xeno-canto)

The Swallow-tailed Kite is a member of the Accipitridae Family (Kites, Hawks & Eagles) Family in the Order Accipitriformes. They are considered Abundance Common according the Thayer Birding software.

They are 24 inches (60 cm) with a very long black forked tail, white head, chest, belly and leading portion of underwing. Their flight feathers are black and their back is also black.

They are a medium-sized, graceful, long-winged, long-tailed hawk with pointed wings, a short, dark, hooked bill. The males and females are similar.

Adults have a long, deeply forked tail. white head, neck, chest, underwing coverts, belly, and undertail coverts, a slate gray back and upperwings, black tail and flight feathers. Whereas the immature is duller than adult with fine streaks on head and breast and has a shorter, less deeply-forked tail than adult.

Thayer also says of their habitat and behavior – ” Wet open woodlands, bottomlands, wooded river swamps, marshes, wetlands, and along rivers, ponds and lakes. Agile and graceful in flight. Eats in flight by bending head and neck under body to eat prey held in talon. Will drink in flight, much like a swallow. Gregarious. Will sweep low over open fields and grasslands to catch food or soar very high for flying insects.”

Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus) by Africaddict

Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus) by Africaddict

The Swallow-tails like to breed in “Lowland forest, especially swampy areas extending into open woodland. 1 brood. Mating system is monogamous. Displays are In flight: easy sailing, curving chase often over water. On perch: mutual approach on horizontal limb, face-off, female quickly turns or backs under limb. They also do courtship feeding.

The nest is usually in treetop concealed by thick foliage and they place it on a foundation of preceding year’s nest. It consist of sticks, twigs, moss, pine needles, leaves, lichen. Lined with fine materials, few feathers. Both sexes help with nest construction.

The eggs are white, marked with browns, occasionally lavender, often concentrated at end. 1.8” (47 mm). Both sexes incubate.  with Incubation taking 28 days. Development is semialtricial (immobile, downy, eyes open, fed). Young are able to fly after 36-42 days. Both sexes tend young.

The spend their winters from Colombia and Venezuela S. Marsh drainage, deforestation, and shooting are responsible for reduction in population and range.

Miscellaneous notes; Occasionally nest in loose colonies of a few pairs. Bathe and drink by skimming water surface like swallow. Occasionally soar at great heights. Up to 200 pieces used in nest, carried individually, may require up to 800 miles of flight. Formerly known as American Swallow-tailed Kite; changed by AOU in 1996.

From Thayer Birding Software, The Birder’s Handbook, Wikipedia, and other internet sources.

See also:

Originally posted in 2018 on Birds of the Bible For Kids Blog)

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Hope Kindled by God’s Creation

“The land is as the garden of Eden before them,  and behind them a desolate wilderness; yea, and nothing shall escape them.”  Joel 2:3

As we look about, it can seem all is being laid waste in our society. A virus cancelling church services, political rivalries, racial unrest, lawlessness… all so troubling. But while paddling through the swamp during the coronavirus quarantine, suddenly the Holy Spirit caused hope to spring up in my heart as I watched an Anhinga perched upon a young cypress tree. God’s creation – and God’s Word – restored hope in my heart!

Anhinga bird perched atop a cypress tree with Spanish Moss; Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, USA. ©www.williamwisephoto.com.

The naturalists of old write of towering cypress – some as high as 120 feet – standing guard for centuries in the Okefenokee Swamp. But all that changed in the early 20th century. All were laid low. It began in 1909: the pristine Okefenokee began to bustle with cacophony of industry as logging skidders, sawmills and railroad tracks invaded the Swamp. The trees – and the birds! – were gone.

C.T. Trowell wrote, “Systematically, the Hebards extended their logging operations across the Okefenokee. Extending south from Hopkins to Cravens Island in 1912, they reached Pine Island and Mixons Hammock by 1915. Within a year they were cutting the timber between Mixons Hammock and Minnies Island and the railroad was extended across Jones Island to Billys Island. Between 1922 and 1926, they logged the cypress around Floyds Island.”

A young Cypress Tree reaches toward the sky in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. ©www.williamwisephoto.com.

Would the Okefenokee ever recover? Cypress trees grow very slowly. At a reported growth rate of only about a foot per year in their early stages, it could take 300 to 500 years for the Cypresses of the Okefenokee to once again tower over the habitat as they did prior to 1909. But with the establishment of the Okefenokee as a National Wildlife Refuge in 1937, the healing has begun.Today, there are already some scenic waterways through the Okefenokee – tall cypresses mirrored in the tanin-darkened waters – that hint at these former days.

“But fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: for the Lord will do great things. Be not afraid, ye beasts of the field: for the pastures of the wilderness do spring, for the tree beareth her fruit, the fig tree and the vine do yield their strength. And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten the cankerworm, and the caterpiller, and the palmerworm.”  Joel 2:21-25

The birds have returned! Swallow-tailed Kite; Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. May, 2020. ©www.williamwisephoto.com.

So if there is hope of restoration kindled in the heart upon looking at a young Cypress tree, how much more for our society upon looking at God’s Word! There is a hope that things laid bare can one day live again and be renewed to their former glory. If not in this lifetime, certainly in the next.

As Christians, we cease not to pray for our nations, nor forget the restoration that awaits in the New Earth for those who trust and hope in Jesus Christ!


Hi, I’m wildlife photographer and nature writer William Wise. I was saved under a campus ministry while studying wildlife biology at the University of Georgia. My love of the outdoors quickly turned into a love for the Creator and His works. I’m currently an animal shelter director and live in Athens, Georgia with my wife and two teenage daughters, who are all also actively involved in ministry. Creation Speaks is my teaching ministry that glorifies our Creator and teaches the truth of creation.  — “What a wildly wonderful world, God! You made it all, with Wisdom at Your side, made earth overflow with your wonderful creations.” Psalms 104, The Message.

Swallow-tailed Kites In The Area Again

Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus) ©Flickr Lawrence Crovo

Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus) ©Flickr Lawrence Crovo

And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth. (Genesis 1:21-22 KJV)

But these are they of which ye shall not eat: the eagle, and the ossifrage, and the ospray, And the glede, and the kite, and the vulture after his kind, (Deuteronomy 14:12-13 KJV)

Our Swallow-tailed Kite has been written about several times, but they are just so pretty to watch. Again, today, we had one fly out over us and make a turn which showed the split in the tail. We have very few photos of them, because they are almost a “now you see them, now you don’t” kind of bird. They just come out of no where, there they are, and then they are gone. But, OH!, when they come out, they are so neat to behold.

Our Lord, when He created this bird, within its kind, sure put some beauty and gracefulness within this Kite. These birds belong to the Accipitridae Family of Kites, Hawks, and Eagles. Basically, they are one of the Birds of Prey. They are more dangerous to flying “large insects, such as grasshoppers, crickets; small birds and eggs; and small mammals including bats. It has been observed to regularly consume fruit in Central America. It drinks by skimming the surface and collecting water in its beak.” (Wikipedia)

Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus) ©WikiC

Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus) ©WikiC

Let them praise the name of the LORD: for he commanded, and they were created. (Psalms 148:5 KJV)

Here is how All About Birds describe them: “The lilting Swallow-tailed Kite has been called “the coolest bird on the planet.” With its deeply forked tail and bold black-and-white plumage, it is unmistakable in the summer skies above swamps of the Southeast. Flying with barely a wingbeat and maneuvering with twists of its incredible tail, it chases dragonflies or plucks frogs, lizards, snakes, and nestling birds from tree branches. After rearing its young in a treetop nest, the kite migrates to wintering grounds in South America.” (emphasis mine)

Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus) ©WikiC

Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus) ©WikiC

For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. (Colossians 1:16-17 KJV)

Just wanted to show them again so friends here in Florida and other southern states might keep their eyes to the sky. They are back, for a few months and then they will feel the call of South America and elsewhere south of here. The Lord put within the desire to migrate. So, enjoy them while you can.

now you see them, now you don’t

Here is a small slideshow of Swallow-tailed Kites:

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Previous articles:

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Birdwatching at Circle B Reserve – June 8

Limpkin (Aramus guarauna) Preening at Circle B

Limpkin (Aramus guarauna) Preening at Circle B

We took about an hour and a half to check out Circle B Bar Reserve again today. It was partly cloudy and around 81 degrees when we arrived. We managed to see or hear 31 species. Not bad. We had all that rain from Tropical Storm Andrea and thought maybe it would help bring in some birds. It was still pretty dry out there, but the weeds and growth sure had enjoyed all that rain we had.

Since most of our winter birds have left, we were happy with what we saw. Some of the delights and surprises were catching a video of a Carolina Wren singing right in front of us as we got out of the car. Was surprised to see 25 White Pelicans this time of the year. They went by in 3 squadrons.

By them the birds of the heavens have their home; They sing among the branches. (Psalms 104:12 NKJV)

Also, finally got a photo of the Tufted Titmouse that I have heard out there but never was able to get a glimpse of. Heading back to the car, a Swallow-tailed Kite flew over. All in all it was great. Now? It has been raining for the last 5 or 6 hours. Good thing we were there early.

Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus) at Circle B

Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus) at Circle B

Species Count
Wood Stork 4
Anhinga 1
American White Pelican 25
Great Blue Heron 2
Great Egret 3
Snowy Egret 1
Tricolored Heron 2
Cattle Egret 10
White Ibis 2
Glossy Ibis 4
Black Vulture 20
Turkey Vulture 5
Osprey 1
Swallow-tailed Kite 1
Bald Eagle 1
Red-shouldered Hawk 2
Common Gallinule 5
Limpkin 2
Sandhill Crane 2
Mourning Dove 2
Red-bellied Woodpecker 2
Downy Woodpecker 2
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Pileated Woodpecker 2
Blue Jay 3
Fish Crow 2
Tufted Titmouse 2
Carolina Wren 1
Northern Cardinal 4
Red-winged Blackbird 15
Boat-tailed Grackle 20

Update on the eye situation – I got the “All is well” for the 6-months checkup on my retina surgery and now I am scheduled June 19th to see the Eye Doctor who will do the cataract surgery. I am praying that it will be done by the end of the month. It was quite blurry out birding today.

I was using my camera as my eyes. I could tell there was something on a tree, but had no clear idea of what it was until viewed through the viewfinder and with my camera zoomed in. Hey! You do what you have to do to be able to enjoy birdwatching. And I did. The Lord let me see all of these neat birds today.

See:

Birdwatching Trips – Circle B

Wordless Birds

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