National Geographic : 1933 Jul
THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE SWALLOW-TAILED KITE (Elanoides forficatus forficatus The swallow-tailed kite, delighting in its aerial powers, spends hours on the wing wheeling and turning without apparent effort. The deeply forked tail, the white plumage, and black wings and tail form un mistakable marks for field identification. This species feeds extensively on snakes and also eats lizards and large insects. All food is seized expertly in the feet, and the birds customarily eat while flying, tear ing their prey apart with their bills. They are believed to be entirely beneficial. The nest of the swallow-tailed kite is built in trees, often from 60 to 125 feet from the ground, and is composed of twigs and moss, the nesting material being seized while flying. Two eggs generally constitute a set, although from one to four may be found. These vary in ground color from dull white to a delicate cream, and are spotted and blotched with brown. The call is shrill and high-pitched, being heard mainly during the nesting season. Formerly this beautiful hawk was com mon throughout the eastern United States, but in the last 30 years its numbers have lessened steadily, and now it is found mainly in the southern section. The species breeds locally from Minne sota, Indiana, and North Carolina south into Florida and eastern Mexico, winter ing south of the United States. An allied form is found in Central and South America. MISSISSIPPI KITE (Ictinia misisippiensis) The Mississippi kite is another species that spends hours in the air in tireless movement. The food of this bird consists princi pally of insects, with occasional reptiles and frogs. I once encountered a band of a dozen coursing over a range of low hills, and at intervals darting down to seize a cicada. Held in the hawk's foot, the in sect buzzed protestingly until, without a pause in the bird's flight, it was swallowed. The Mississippi kite builds a small nest composed of twigs, in part with leaves still attached, placed in trees from 25 to 60 feet from the ground. The birds breed in May and June, later in the season than most species of this family. The eggs number two or three and are pale bluish white, without markings, though often stained by the decaying green leaves of the nest lining. Only one brood is reared each season. The immature bird in the first fall is whitish below, streaked with dark brown and buffy. This kite nests from northeastern Kan sas, southern Illinois, and South Carolina south to Texas and Florida. In winter it is found from Florida and Texas to Guate mala. It has been noted casually from Colorado to Pennsylvania and New Jersey. WHITE-TAILED KITE (Elanus leucurus majusculus) Like related kites, this species is master of the air and flies with extreme ease and skill. It delights in high winds, breasting them like a gull without the slightest diffi culty. It is found over tree-dotted prairies and savannas, marshes, and semi-open valleys. Though fifty years ago it was common, it has decreased steadily until now it is to be classed among our unusual birds. Despite the fact that it has been afforded protec tion in recent years, the species does not seem able to increase. The white-tailed kite, in feeding, fre quently hovers with rapidly beating wings over one spot for several minutes, watch ing the vegetation beneath closely, ready to pounce down whenever prey appears. It lives on small snakes, lizards, frogs, and large insects, and seems to be entirely beneficial. The note of this kite is said to be some what like that of the osprey, but terminat ing in a guttural or grating sound. The nest, built of twigs and lined with soft materials, is placed from 25 to 50 feet from the ground. The eggs, varying from three to five, are creamy white, heavily marked with blotches of brown. The young have the plumage tinged with brown and are indis tinctly streaked above. The white-tailed kite is found in Cali fornia from the upper Sacramento Valley and Humboldt County, south to northern Baja California, and from Texas, Okla homa, and Florida to Guatemala. An allied race ranges in South America, and similar species are found in the other inhabited continents.