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Kite Flight 2021 Begins!

August 1, 2021

For the first time in Florida Keys Hawkwatch history, the project begins monitoring on August 1 to target the early migratory movements of Swallow-tailed Kites (Elanoides forficatus).

The Swallow-tailed Kite has been designated a species of conservation concern by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (Birds of Conservation Concern 2021, Migratory Bird Program*). Its graceful flight and beauty are unsurpassed by any raptor. Several Florida organizations use it as their symbol, including the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Great Florida Birding Trail, and or course, our very own Tropical Audubon Society.

Comparatively little is known about the migration of this unique southeastern raptor species. It is estimated that 15,000 to 25,000 Swallow-tailed Kites return to the U.S. each spring to breed. The vast majority nest in Florida. The Florida Keys Hawkwatch is the only hawkwatch site that can collect migration count data of this U.S. population, as adults and young leave the continent entirely during the fall towards Latin America.

Almost all that is known about the movements of this species comes from the research of Ken Meyer with the Avian Research and Conservation Institute (ARCI) in Gainesville, Florida. Consistent baseline count data will provide a valuable compliment to ARCI’s tracking data, aiding in future studies and conservation initiatives alike.

Swallow-tailed Kites begin their southbound migration as early as July, considerably earlier than the other migratory raptors monitored at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch. The fall migration season for this species peaks in August and researchers from FKH will be in place, tallying these birds as they wing south.

Leading the migration count this 2021 fall season will be Luis Gles and Mariah Hryniewich. Both are seasoned hawkwatchers and have extensive experience with the project.

The 2021 migration count will run daily from August 1 through November. This year’s count will be more than six weeks longer than any of our prior count seasons. The effort to document Swallow-tailed Kites comes at no small cost, and would not be possible without our partners and sponsors.

We would like to welcome our new sponsor, Phone Skope, manufacturer of the leading adapters for smart phones and optics. Kowa Sporting Optics also returns, and will continue to supply our hawkwatchers with professional optic equipment throughout the season. We would like to thank Tropical Audubon Society, Florida Keys Audubon Society, Audubon Florida, Florida Ornithological Society and all the individuals who have donated funds to make this season possible.

We would also like to welcome Karl Miller of Florida Fish and Wildlife to our advisory board. With his guidance, we aim to give our findings clearer direction and purpose.

*Link to Birds of Conservation Concern 2021, Migratory Bird Program: https://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/pdf/management/birds-of-conservation-concern-2021.pdf

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