Friday, September 1, 2017

A Swallow-tailed Kite’s second chance gives back to science

In mid-July, an adult Swallow-tailed Kite was admitted to Audubon’s Center for Birds of Prey with trauma injuries after being hit by a vehicle.  With some quiet rest, this kite improved quickly and was transported to the Avian Reconditioning Center (ARC) in Apopka.  Here the Kite joined two other Swallow-tailed Kites in a 100-ft flight cage to exercise and prepare for release.

Carol McCorkle, ARC’s Director, connected with us at ARCI to say this healthy Swallow-tailed Kite would be released the following weekend. Carol wondered if we might want to put a cell-phone/GPS transmitter on the kite prior to release.  Although this was an exciting offer, and we had just received a few of these amazing devices from the manufacturer, we told Carol we had not yet raised enough funds to pay for transmitters and to deploy them.  We try to keep a few transmitters on hand for when land managers or conservation groups have an interest in seeing a bird tagged and the funds to cover purchase of the transmitter and the costs for capturing, tagging, and tracking a bird.

Paula Ashby of ARC sprang into fund raising action! Within 48 hours, she was able to raise the necessary interest and financial support from the surrounding community to make the GPS-tagging possible. Thank you so much, Paula!  For their confidence and generosity, ARCI and ARC are grateful to:

The City of Apopka - Mayor Joe Kilsheimer
Halifax Audubon - David Hartgrove
Oklawaha Audubon - Stacy Kelly
Seminole County Audubon - Lewis Gray, Margaret Terwilliger, Sarah Donlan
Tampa Bay Raptor Rescue - Barbara Walker
Clearwater Audubon - matching the challenge issued by Tampa Bay Raptor Rescue
West Volusia Audubon - Stephen Kintner
Deborah Green from Orange Audubon (personal donation)
Janet Marks from West Volusia Audubon (personal donation)
Eileen Tramontana, Director of Trout Lake Nature Center (personal donation)
Sandie Selman from West Volusia Audubon (personal donation)
Disney Volunteers from ARC - $100 each - Rebecca Grimm and Alyssa Karnitz

You all know that this work can be very difficult and often demoralizing. No doubt you also can imagine how gratifying it is to see birds reconditioned and released by ARC knowing that they will contribute to ARCI’s long term studies of movement ecology and conservation biology. We hope you also know how gratifying it is to have your confidence and generosity in pursuing this mission we all share. Thank you all very much!

We had a great crowd of supporters at the release of this now famous Swallow-tailed Kite and the other two kites.  We name Swallow-tailed Kites after a location they are associated with, and since we were releasing the Kite at the Lake Apopka North Shore Restoration Area it was fitting to name it “Apopka”. We took a feather sample from Apopka and will send to a lab to learn whether it is a male or female, so stay tuned for that information (place names honor the locations that are so important to birds, but they also are conveniently gender-neutral!)

The release went very well! All three reconditioned birds took to the sky and drifted east out of sight beyond the trees.  The Lake Apopka North Shore Restoration Area is famous for Swallow-tailed Kites at this time of year, providing ample insect prey for these birds to prepare for their exceptionally long migration.  Hundreds of kites at a time can be seen swooping and diving on prey that they catch and eat in the air.

As expected, Apopka is taking the time now to gather fat and strength before it migrates across the Gulf of Mexico on its way to south-central South America for our winter. Already, Apopka has visited some of the most common roost and foraging sites for Swallow-tailed Kites.  After traveling over 200 miles, this Swallow-tailed Kite is now in a remote portion of Brevard County. We wish Apopka the best of foraging and resting opportunities as it prepares for its long journey. 

Our hearty thanks to all who made this opportunity possible, and to all who enjoy these amazing stories and spread the word about the wonders of bird migration.