Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Swallow-tailed Kite - Elanoides forficatus
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General Comments Arguably the most spectacular bird of prey in the world, especially when seen in flight, the Swallow-tailed Kite has tantalized North Carolina birders for years, trying to determine if the birds actually breed in the state. Kites have nested for decades as far north as the Santee River, South Carolina, and have been seen in small numbers annually near the coast in spring, almost certainly as over-shooting breeders. Since 2003, several birds have spent the spring and summer along the Cape Fear River in Bladen/Pender, strongly suggestive of local breeding. Finally, in 2013, a nest was found in the state, during an aerial survey. The species forages mostly in the air by swooping down onto animal prey, often reptiles and amphibians, snatching them from vegetation. However, most kites seen in North Carolina are simply in flight over a variety of coastal habitats, from barrier islands, to maritime forests. The species is seldom seen perched in North Carolina. In the past few years, there has been a considerable post-breeding push of birds in the late summer and fall into the Piedmont and mountains, including flocks of six or more birds.
Breeding Status Breeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status SR
U.S. Status
State Rank S1B
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Annual visitor, mainly in spring along and near the coast, and breeder at one area; records increasing since 2005. Rare though somewhat regular along the southern half of the coast, north to Buxton, from mid-Mar to late May; very rare farther north, and more than a few miles from the coast. Very rare in the latter part of Feb, and as late as late Sep; apparently no records from Oct to mid-Feb. Since 2003, up to 10-17 birds have been seen along the Cape Fear River near NC 11 and Lock and Dam #1; an adult was seen on a nest on 7 May 2013 near this river in Bladen [Chat 77:74-78 link]. A few recent summer records from swamps in Columbus, such as the Waccamaw River, might suggest possible breeding there. Peak counts: 17 near the Cape Fear Lock and Dam #1 on both 8 Jun (near Zara) and 16 Jul 2016 (around the dam); 14, near Cape Fear Lock and Dam #1, 12 Jun 2011. A count of 8 near Maxton (Robeson) on 18 Jul 2016 was a good count away from the Cape Fear River.
Piedmont Very rare to occasionally rare, but increasing, visitor in the warmer months; about 34 records, from late Apr to mid-Sep. Hardly any records for the northern tier of counties. Peak counts: up to 9, along Old NC 60 in eastern Wilkes, 16-26 Aug 2016; 8 in McDowell, 17-24 Aug 2012; 2 at Morganton (Burke), 17 Aug 2011.
Mountains Very rare visitor in the warmer months; about 12 records, with five coming in fall 2016. Mid-May to mid-Oct, with the record of one at High Hampton (Jackson) on 17 Oct 1953, being the latest fall record for the state. Peak counts: up to 6, where NC 191 crosses the French Broad River (Henderson), 8-20 Aug 2016; 5, Marble (Cherokee), 14 Aug 2016.
Finding Tips Birders can usually spot one to several birds, along with some Mississippi Kites, either close to the NC 11 bridge over the Cape Fear River, or at the Lock and Dam #1 site somewhat up-river. The best times are May to mid-Jul.
Attribution LeGrand[2018-06-11], LeGrand[2018-02-20], LeGrand[2017-12-18]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.
NC Breeding Season Map
Map depicts assumed breeding season abundance for the species.
NA Maps
(source NatureServe)

View NatureServe distribution maps for Elanoides forficatus