Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Good and the Bad

2016 has been tough so far for our satellite-tracked Swallow-tailed Kites.

As you may recall (see our previous blog), Day and Gulf Hammock both apparently died in South America before they could return to nest again in Florida. Day last transmitted from a soybean field in Brazil in November 2015, and Gulf Hammock was last detected above dense tropical forest near the border of Brazil and Peru soon after starting north.

As of our last update, six satellite-tagged kites had returned to their U. S. breeding territories. Each had settled into nesting, with Bullfrog, MIA, Lacombe, and Strong River in the exact same nesting areas as last year. Palmetto moved over 2 miles, probably because last year’s nest was targeted by a predator that killed her mate, Bluff, and their offspring. Pace moved because last year’s nest tree got destroyed in a storm.

Six satellite-tracked Swallow-tailed Kites returned to their U.S. breeding territories. 

Bullfrog’s, MIA’s and Palmetto’s nests remain active, with eggs that should hatch any day. Lacombe’s nest in Louisiana failed in the last week of April. Fortunately, Lacombe is still alive.

Strong River’s signal was lost on 10 April. Dr. Jenn Coulson investigated the area and found a few piles of kite feathers. Jenn could not find the transmitter or carcass – not unusual. She inferred that a raptor had eaten the kite.

We lost Pace’s signal on 18 March, after he had returned to his 2015 nesting area south of Jacksonville, Florida. However birders in the area saw and photographed the kite a few days later (thanks very much to Joe Brooks and his dad, Billy). In the photo, it was clear that the transmitter was missing its antenna and off-center, and that the bird was also missing flight feathers in one of its wings. Did he get attacked and manage to escape? Although Pace has not been seen recently, we are hopeful that he is safe and that we will be able to recapture him and remove the transmitter before he migrates south.

Swallow-tailed Kites are using the same nest that Day occupied in 2014 and 2015, but no one has been able to determine whether the female is banded. We would like to know, in case Day somehow lost her transmitter in Brazil and survived the winter. The radio continues to broadcast occasionally from the soybean field it has been in since November. Friends in Daytona Beach will keep trying to see a band, but the legs of Swallow-tailed Kites are very short and covered by feathers.

Most of the young kites that reach fledging age will be on the wing by late June, when they will join feeding flocks over fields and gradually gather with Swallow-tailed Kites of all ages in pre-migration night roosts. These aggregations will grow as the birds prepare for migration, reaching peak numbers in the last week of July. Once again, ARCI will use synchronized aerial photo-surveys during this period to document the number of kites using the 12 largest roosts in Florida. These surveys, which we began in 1989, provide a rare opportunity to track numeric trends for the national population of Swallow-tailed Kites.