The White-Tailed kite is another of the world’s beautiful raptors, though many people are unaware of its presence here in South Florida. Simply catching a glimpse of one of these lovely birds perched atop a tree or hovering gracefully in the wind will make for a memory you won’t soon forget. Next time you are out for a hike, keep an eye out for this not-so-common bird of prey. In the meantime, here is a quick run-down to get you familiar with a few of the unique characteristics of the beautiful White-Tailed kite. Note: Thank you to Mr. David McQuade of the SW Florida Bird Alert for generously allowing me to use his photos for this entry. Measuring over a foot long with a wingspan of over three feet, this distinctive medium sized bird can be easily identified, especially when soaring in the wind or hovering in an open field. As the name implies, the White-Tailed kite has a soft white tail, with a faint gray stripe down the center. Its body is mostly white, with bold black shoulders and striking red eyes. The underside of the wings are marked by eye-catching black patches and greyish-black primary feathers. Juvenile White-Tailed kites look quite similar to adults, but can be identified by yellowish-brown streaks on the head and breast, and yellow eyes. Photo credit: David McQuade These alluring birds love to build their nests in the tops of Live Oak trees, though nests have been found in many different tree species. The nests are usually made of small sticks, and lined with soft grasses, leaves, and Spanish moss. They typically build in isolated trees, or in trees on the edge of a forest near open grasslands. Speaking of grasslands, the White-Tailed kite can be commonly observed hovering motionless over open fields, before dropping directly down onto prey. This behavior, known as ‘kiting’, is a magnificent site to see! By facing directly into the wind, these birds remain stationary while using their excellent eyesight to search the ground for prey, without as much as a flap of the wing. Photo credit: David McQuade Another unique characteristic of the White-Tailed kite is the courtship display. Prior to female egg laying, the male flies while holding prey as an offering to the female. Then, in a fascinating aerial event, the female will fly up to the male, grasp and take the prey, sometimes turning completely upside down in the process. The female will then lay a clutch of 4 brown-blotched white eggs, which she will incubate for about one month. I could go on and on about these majestic birds, but I will wrap it up here. And remember, the next time you’re outside, look up. You never know what you may see!