For new followers, this blog is the first in an annual series in which we
will describe the northbound migration of seven satellite-tracked
Swallow-tailed Kites: Palmetto, Bluff, Gulf Hammock, Pace, Day, MIA, and PearlMS. All of these birds made it safely to their South American winter range last
fall. Now we will watch as they make their
way back to their nesting areas in the southeastern U. S.
This magnificent odyssey takes them across the
Andes Mountains and several hundred miles of open ocean, where the late-winter
weather can quickly turn perilous. The most dangerous leg is when they fly
northward over the Gulf of Mexico. Rather than jump from the Yucatan Peninsula
to western Cuba or the southern tip of Florida, the reverse of their southbound
track, they generally head northward from the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula on
the first good tailwind. If all goes well, they will reach land somewhere along
the Gulf coast and turn toward the place where they nested last year.
Swallow-tailed Kites cannot maintain continuous flapping flight, they are
unable to make way against headwinds. Instead, they circle over the water
waiting for the winds to change and carry them to land anywhere from southern
Florida to the east coast of Mexico. We have learned from our telemetry
research that many Swallow-tailed Kites die during their northbound migration
because they cannot remain aloft for more than four days. In 2013, three of the
11 kites we were tracking by satellite perished while crossing the Gulf when
unusually large high-pressure systems spawned strong northerly winds that
persisted for over a week.
From the expansive family-owned cattle ranches of the Brazilian Cerrado, two of our seven GPS/satellite-tagged Swallow-tailed Kites have started their 5,000-mile journey back to the southeastern U.S.