Swallow-tailed kites can be easily identified by their 4-foot wingspan, striking black and white plumage and deeply forked tail, according to descriptions from the Nature Conservancy. Their diet consists of dragonflies, butterflies, beetles, snakes, frogs, lizards and small birds plucked out of the air mid-flight.
Today, according to the Nature Conservancy, the swallow-tailed kite only inhabits about 5 percent of its historic range. The global population is estimated at 150,000 birds, and it is considered a species of conservation concern in Mississippi, making it one of the most threatened land birds currently without federal protection from the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
Sue Newland, a board member of the Topeka Audubon Society, spotted the bird flying Tuesday near the Cedar Crest governor’s mansion and reported it to fellow birdwatchers, which led to a mass migration to southwest Topeka by birders from across the state.
Newland said this wasn’t her first time seeing the kite species, a milestone known in the birding community as a “life bird.” She previously saw a swallow-tailed kite after one was reported a couple of years ago near Sun City — roughly a four-hour drive from Topeka.
She explained that birders can be “a little crazy” when it comes to seeking out rare species.
“Some of us keep lists of birds seen, like all life birds, all birds seen in the state, all birds seen in the county, etc.,” Newland said. “For many, this sighting was a life bird. For most, it was a state bird. For some, like me, it was a county bird.
“The one near Sun City was a life and state bird for me. That is why I drove that far to see it and why so many came here to see this one. More will come this weekend who could not get here during the week. Hopefully it sticks around.”