Swallow-tailed Kites

I saw the most extraordinary bird soaring above Camp Salmen the other day. It had long, gracefully curving wings, a sharply forked tail and striking, black and white aerodynamic stylings. It looked like raw speed personified. It was a Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus), asmall hawk actually and a nimble predator known to swoop down and pluck small creatures like lizards, grasshoppers, frogs, snakes and mammals from the treetops. That I’d like to see. It is apparently so obsessed with speed it even drinks on the fly by skimming just above Bayou Liberty with its beak agape.

It’s a migratory bird that wisely spends our winter in the northern parts of South America and in the Amazon basin. During our spring it makes stops in Central America, Cuba and the Caribbean islands on its way to summer in the good old Southeastern U.S. where it mates and breeds in woodlands and wetlands. We are lucky to be so honored.

The property along the Bayou Liberty corridor is a perfect fit for the bird. If you look at a Google map of the area you can see it is largely wooded on both sides of the bayou, from the rural north to the Lake Pontchartrain marshes in the south. This is one of the reasons why our park enjoys roaming deer, Canadian Geese, fox, Great Blue Herons, alligators, and all sorts of other creatures who like to move under woodland cover. They also use Bayou Liberty like their drinking fountain.

A few days later I was lucky to see a half dozen of these Kites wheeling in the open air above the flagpole on our parade ground. They were probably taking a break from their nearby nests and doing some late afternoon hunting and cavorting in the waning light of the day. We have several kinds of bird habitat in the park and birdwatchers are always welcome. Of course, the open skies over the bayou are where most people can catch a glimpse of the largest and fastest flyers.

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