MILESTONE: Managing Working Forests to Benefit Iconic Swallow-tailed Kites

Working forests can provide important nesting habitat for Swallow-tailed Kites. Photo by Steve Byland

Working forests can provide important nesting habitat for Swallow-tailed Kites. Photo by Steve Byland

American Bird Conservancy (ABC) is working this spring with forest landowners in the southeastern United States to provide nesting sites for the unmistakable Swallow-tailed Kite, now and into the future. With a long, forked tail, four-foot wingspan, and elegant flight, this striking black-and-white raptor is a “winged ambassador” that helps landowners recognize the critical role they can play in the conservation of birds and other wildlife.

Swallow-tailed Kites breeding in the Southeast represent a distinct population of this species that winters in Brazil and Bolivia. Working forests can provide ideal conditions for nesting and raising young kites before the southbound migration begins in August.

With scientists at the Avian Research and Conservation Institute (ARCI) and biologists at International Paper, ABC recently completed a fact sheet detailing what forest landowners can do to provide habitat conditions needed by kites. Swallow-tailed Kites typically nest in the open tops of very tall pine trees, often on the edge of bottomland forest. They forage for snakes, lizards, small birds, and other prey over recently harvested or young forests. The kites are very social and return to the same breeding sites year after year, often nesting very close to each other. The fact sheet describes how to recognize and protect nesting sites and how to ensure that groups of large, emergent pines and other features remain on the landscape to serve as future nesting sites.

The Swallow-tailed Kite fact sheet complements a larger guide released by ABC and Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) partners in 2019, entitled Bird Friendly Forests: Opportunities for Private Forest Owners in the Southeastern U.S. This guide provides recommendations for incorporating bird habitat conservation into working forests to provide a range of environmental, recreational, and economic values. As part of the Managed Forests for Birds partnership, surveys conducted by ABC, ARCI, and volunteers have documented more than 75 breeding bird species using actively managed forest landscapes, from Prairie Warblers in young forests, to Prothonotary Warblers in wetlands, to Wood Thrushes in older forests.

Swallow-tailed Kites used to be far more widespread, nesting in at least 21 states prior to the early 1900s. A sharp population decline from 1880 through 1940 resulted in a limited distribution in just seven southern states, and a breeding population of about 2,500 pairs. In recent decades, the population rebounded somewhat to about 10,000 kites but is still restricted to those seven states. There, working forests play a vital role in maintaining the population.

ABC's Vice President for Migratory Birds and Habitats, Emily Jo Williams, says, “Working with our partners at SFI and companies committed to the SFI standards, we are able to realize the potential of millions of acres of working forests to provide homes for awesome birds like Swallow-tailed Kites.”

ABC thanks its supporters at the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, Inc. and its partnerships with many companies including International Paper, Weyerhaeuser, Hancock Timber Resource Group, Resource Management Service, Forest Investment Associates, The Westervelt Company, Molpus Timberlands Management, Rayonier, PotlatchDeltic, Campbell Global, Timberland Investment Resources, as well as technical partners at the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement, Inc.

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Media Contact: Jordan Rutter, Director of Public Relations, 202-888-7472 | jerutter@abcbirds.org | @JERutter
Expert Contact: EJ Williams, Vice President of Migratory Birds and Habitats, 706-818-1799 | ejwilliams@abcbirds.org

American Bird Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on abcbirds.org, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@ABCbirds).

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