Swallow-Tailed Kite Spotted in Pennsylvania

I saw a new bird this week! It’s exciting because I don’t often get that experience of seeing one new to me. Funny, I don’t keep a bird list, but when you spot one that you haven’t seen before, you just know it.

While driving to a nearby Amish lady’s farmer stand to pick up some corn and tomatoes I noticed this large bird flying low. It was doing some acrobatics or maybe loop-t-loos and that made me wonder what kind of seagull is that?

This bird was about the size of a seagull, but we’re not near the ocean. Sure, we see seagulls in autumn sometimes and definitely in winter, but in the summer not so much.

Its tail was forked and the wings pointed and I was pretty sure it was some kind of kite, but I’d never seen a kite in real life. I’d have to run home and check my bird book, I like Peterson’s Eastern Birds, to see the images and descriptions to be sure.

The one thing I was totally sure of was that I had never seen one before. Cool, a new bird!

I stopped the car in the middle of that country road and glanced in the rear view mirror as I reached for my camera. Not much traffic to worry about in these parts so I pushed the lever into “P” to park for a minute.

As I watched the bird criss-cross the road and fly over the cornfields on either side it didn’t seem to be bothered that I was there.

The photos could be a lot better but you can still tell what it is…a Swallow-Tailed Kite!

This bird is not a seagull!
Its Not A Seagull!

My identification was based on its deeply forked tail, white body and wing linings, black wings, overall size, and acrobatic flying style.

The really cool thing about viewing this bird of the South was, well there are two cool things, actually.

First, kites are known to live in the south. Peterson’s map shows this one living in the Gulf States and nowhere near Pennsylvania.

We’ve had some real hot and very rainy weather lately so maybe it rode up here on the currents of hot winds from the South.

Second, and I do think I was privileged to witness this, I saw the big bird eat on the wing.

On one of its passes across the two-lane country road it swooped low enough to pluck a length of a roadside weed. It was either a chicory flower head or one from a Queen Anne’s lace.

The kite then flew across the road a couple more times where I could see that it brought the flower to its beak and it must have plucked out a few seeds.

Swallow-Tailed Kite Eats a Flower on the Wing
Swallow-Tailed Kite Eats a Flower on the Wing
(Photos taken 16 August 2017. Click on an image to see a larger view.)

Maybe you can make out that the bird is holding something up to its mouth.

I had never before seen a bird take a flower stem and munch on it on the wing! How cool was that?!

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