By Pam Darty
When the crowd gathered at the Cedar Key Library Thursday evening, they didn’t expect a great surprise. The Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge was hosting a talk on the latest research on swallow-tailed Kites. As birders were arriving for Dr. Ken Meyer’s presentation, Dr. Dawn Miller, Gainesville veterinarian and certified wildlife rehabilitator, came in the door carrying a magnificent swallow-tail.
After the initial thrill of seeing the kite so close, Miller introduced herself and the bird saying that it was the sweetest gentlest kite she’s ever worked with, very different from other kites she had rehabbed. Dr. Meyer, of the Avian Research and Conservation Institute (ARCI), agreed adding that other kites, like the Mississippi Kite didn’t have the same disposition as the mellow swallowtail.
Meyer talked of the superior habitat that Florida and specifically the Lower Suwannee NWR offers the eye-catching Kite that repeatedly nests in the extremely tall pines of the Refuge. But not just any tall pines! The bird prefers areas not so attractive to its fiercest predator, the Great Horned Owl, so stands of pines that have heavy undergrowth with adjacent standing water are preferred over open areas used by the owl.
Gina Kent, not present for the presentation, along with Meyer, has been researching Kites at the Lower Suwannee NWR and Lake Woodruff NWR, as well as other parts of Florida and Georgia for nearly a decade. She is the tree climber, the nest finder, the godmother to the eggs staying in close contact with the Refuge staff.
The arrival of the swallow-tailed Kites signals spring and excites all birders and naturalists alike. The research will continue so that lessons learned can be incorporated by resource managers planning ahead to provide the necessary habitat for the continuation of the spectacular species. With funding from U.S. Fish & Wildlife drying up, and state and prior private funding completely gone, ARCI is hoping to find enough support from private, foundation, and corporate donors to continue to do their research, which presently addresses the conservation needs of 11 species in addition to swallow-tailed Kites.