Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Pre-migration begins!

By now, nearly all Swallow-tailed Kite nests have either fledged young or failed (on average, a bit more than half fledge at least one juvenile). This is the time when all the birds – including the 4 to 5 month old young of the year – need to add significant fat reserves to their light-weight frames so they can endure the 5000-mile flight ahead of them. The first big obstacle will be crossing 400 miles of water from southern Florida to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula without any rest.

Three of our seven GPS-satellite tracked Swallow-tailed Kites have started moving into pre-migratory roosts and foraging aggregations where they can fatten up on ephemeral insect swarms and congregate with other kites.

Pre-migration of seven GPS-tagged Swallow-tailed Kites 

Gulf Hammock left Levy County, Florida, a few days before her regular 3rd of July departure. She heads to Abbeville, Georgia, every year, where she roosts at night along the Ocmulgee River and forages in nearby fields during the day.

Late in her nesting cycle, Palmetto began using the area between Palmetto Bluff and the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge and lands along the New River in South Carolina. On 10 July, she moved west to the Altamaha River and the fields near Glennville, as she and many other Swallow-tailed and Mississippi Kites have been known to do at this time of year.

On the evening of 9 July, Day began roosting 25 miles west of her nesting area in Ormond Beach, Florida. On some days, she flies back to Ormond Beach and Daytona, but she also has made daily 60-mile round-trip commutes to feed on the Lake Apopka Restoration Area, where impressively large aggregations of Swallow-tailed Kites are regularly seen at this time of year.

Bluff patrolled his nesting territory in Palmetto Bluff, South Carolina until 17 July. He probably was tending to his recently-fledged young. He then began foraging and roosting in the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, but has since headed farther north along the Savannah River, where he now roosts and feeds west of Allendale, South Carolina.

Pace remains in his nesting area, spending time around Doctor’s Lake in southern Jacksonville, Florida. He most likely has young in tow.

PearlMS has a recently-fledged chick, so it makes sense that he is still close to his nest area on the Pearl River in Mississippi.

For one of our tagged Swallow-tailed Kites, pre-migration is already over! Unfortunately MIA’s nest failed. However, he never strayed far from his nesting home range in southern Miami, Florida, indicating that he was able to find ample food in this urban area to prepare for migration. He left for Cuba on the afternoon of 18 July, making him our first satellite-tracked Swallow-tailed Kite to migrate this season. This was nine days earlier than he did so in 2013, perhaps because his parental duties ended sooner this year.