Saturday, July 13, 2019

Swallow-tailed Kite Population Monitoring Surveys are BACK!

Every year since 1989, ARCI has conducted systematic aerial surveys to count Swallow-tailed Kites at more than 15 large pre-migration roosts during a 10-day window in late July. These roosts, some of which hold up to 4,000 birds, provide an extremely rare and valuable opportunity for long-term population monitoring of this imperiled species.

A smaller roost of Swallow-tailed Kites photographed by Margi Haas.

Pre-migration roosts are places where Swallow-tailed Kites form foraging aggregations and communal night roosts. By doing this they gain behavioral information from and communicate with each other to find swarms of insects and other prey to put on weight rapidly and prepare themselves for a 5,000 mile migration. 

From years of survey data we estimate that 90% of all kites that can be counted across seven southeastern states are roosting in Florida right now. However, we know we are missing kites that are NOT using these large roosts.

How many we are missing? 

This is where your help is so vitally important. You can help us increase the accuracy with which we are able to estimate the size of the entire United States population of Swallow-tailed Kites.

A perched kite sighted by Dick Brewer.

Participation is easy! On the 19th, 22nd, 25th, and 28th of July, look for kites in your area before 10 AM (before the birds leave the night roosts). Then report the date, time, location, number, and behavior of Swallow-tailed Kites you see 
with this Population Monitoring Survey (please don't use this form until the 19th). The form is responsive to your smart device, so you can even report from the field!

We look forward to including your sightings in the 2019 population estimate!

-The ARCI Team

Special thanks to these organizations and individuals for their financial support: Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, the Palm Beach Zoo and Fred and Charlotte Lohrer

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Swallow-tailed Kite 2019 Northbound Migration Wrap Up


This year all eleven tracked kites successfully crossed the Gulf of Mexico and reached their nesting grounds in the southeastern United States!
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Pritchard is back!! After making no northward progress in his first attempt to cross and being rerouted to Cuba, Pritchard recovered for two days. He tried again, leaving Cuba near Puerto Escondido. Instead of flying straight to South Florida, easterly winds pushed Pritchard to fly near-parallel to the state for a full 48 hours before reaching Port St. Joe in the Panhandle. He then zipped back to last year's nesting grounds in Palmetto Bluff, South Carolina.


We bit our nails all week as we watched the remaining five GPS-tracked Swallow-tailed Kites embark across the deep blue Gulf of Mexico. All five birds fought strong headwinds.
Wilson left first and after 64 hours over water, rested quickly atop the first tree he saw on the Sarasota County, Florida, shore, and returned to his former nesting grounds. A few days later, Hobolochitto Creek, Apopka, and Sawgrass left. Hobolochitto Creek streamed north to Louisiana in just over 24 hours, Apopka reached Mississippi in about two days, and Sawgrass hit the Florida Panhandle after 48 hours.
Pritchard had a rough flight. He battled the wind just off the Yucatan Peninsula for a day before redirecting to Cuba. We hope he's resting safe there as we have not had any data from him since 27 March.


JAX is back after an impressive ~78 hours over the Gulf of Mexico! Her data show she headed east towards South Florida in the first 24 hours, but the winds changed and prevented any further eastward progress. After 6 hours, JAX turned and sailed north to reach the Florida Panhandle on the 24th. Phew!
Wilson is next to cross. Winds are currently from the north (the worst direction for kites) so we hope he waits a little bit. Pritchard is now in Belize, Hobolochitto Creek and Sawgrass in Honduras, and Apopka still in Colombia.


All the kites have made it through the Andes Mountains, and five kites are now back at their nesting grounds! Pritchard is back online after being silent since 15 Feb, and is now in Panama. The urge to pass on their genes is strong, and many kites will start nesting very soon after they reach "home."


Okaloacoochee and Babcock made it safely to Florida! Both birds left from the northeastern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula to cross the Gulf of Mexico. Even though OK left a day earlier, they both reached Florida around the same time near Panama City and Steinhatchee, Florida, respectively. Sarasota and Lacombe are next in line to cross the Gulf, and Bayou Vincent is not far behind.
JAX is through the Andes Mountains and starting the journey through Central America. Apopka, Sawgrass, and Wilson are set to cross the mountain range next. Hobolochitto Creek and Pritchard are taking their time to reach the Andes and are still in Brazil.
Weather can make or break a kite's Gulf of Mexico crossing. A good tailwind eases the kite's effort, but a strong northerly headwind can cause kites to stall out over the water. Fingers crossed for more successful Gulf crossings!
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Guess who's in Central America?!
The radio silence has broken for a few kites, including Okaloacoochee, who's been offline for over a month! She is now in Panama along with Lacombe and Sarasota. Babcock is the farthest along in Nicaragua. Bayou Vincent has crossed the Andes Mountains, and Apopka has moved farther north in Colombia.
Hobolochitto Creek must have found some delicious food to be still hanging around in Peru. We're still waiting on data from JAX, Sawgrass, Wilson, and Pritchard.
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Radio silence. Most of the GSM-tracked kites are far from cell coverage now as they cross through the remote Amazon in Brazil, Peru, and Colombia. They may find great foraging opportunities and stay a while to pack on energy-rich fat - which is exactly what Lacombe, Hobolochitto Creek, and Bayou Vincent (tagged by our colleague Dr. Jenn Coulson) have been doing for the last two weeks.
Waiting for data is not exciting, but it is sometimes a reality of remote tracking. It could be a few weeks before we "hear" from many of these birds, and by that time they could be well into Colombia or through the Andes Mountains.
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All but two of the tagged Swallow-tailed Kites are on the move! Lacombe is still in the lead in western Brazil, 360 miles ahead of Hobolochitto Creek. He will soon approach the first obstacle along the kites' migratory route, the Andes Mountains.
Bayou Vincent and Sarasota have moved nearly 700 miles since last week to join Apopka and Babcock in Rondonia, Brazil. Wilson has caught up with this group, too.
Sawgrass said, "See ya, boys!" and has left Pritchard and Okaloacoochee at their favorite winter hangout while she begins to migrate north.
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Data don't lie, and today they show that Lacombe, Hobolochitto Creek, Babcock, Bayou Vincent, and Sawgrass are on their way north!
Protein-rich insects have been turned into fat reserves that sustain Swallow-tailed Kites during the migration season. Even though they can eat on the wing as they travel, we may see them stop along their routes to rest and replenish their energy in food-rich hot spots.
Each kite is named for the location where it was tagged. Lacombe, Hobolochitto Creek, and Bayou Vincent were tagged in Louisiana, Pritchard and Wilson in South Carolina, and the remainder in Florida.