Citizen-scientists Team Up for Swallow-tailed Kites

Individuals report a rare raptor and help support regional conservation efforts.

COLUMBIA, S.C.  | March 28, 2012

Documentations of the rare and striking swallow-tailed kite by average citizens have increased dramatically over the last few years and database mangers are asking for more. Sightings of the black and white raptor and aerial acrobat are being used to inform national conservation efforts, and it’s not just birders that are paying attention.

“In its first year, while only targeting South Carolina, the database accumulated more than 500 sightings from all seven Southeastern states where kites are known to breed. The numbers and participation from neighboring states has increased each year,” said Jennifer McCarthey Tyrrell, database manager at the Center for Birds of Prey.

The database is now regional in scope and sighting reports have grown to more than 1,500 per year. Members of the South Carolina Working Group and the National Swallow-tailed Kite Conservation Alliance have real-time access to the data as it is entered. Because of the ease of access and accuracy of reports, this information is now being used in numerous state- and national-level conservation and research projects.

“In analyzing the 8,000 reports in the database, I found that 250 faithful contributors provided half of those reports and some contributors reported sightings in four different states,” said McRae Vaughn, an anthropology student from the College of Charleston conducting an independent study to better understand the people that have made this citizen-science program such a success. “Surprisingly, while some of the contributors identified themselves as birders, many are boaters, outdoor enthusiasts, natural resource professionals and curious individuals who had a chance encounter with a beautiful bird and took the time to follow up.”

The program generates valuable information that is used by researchers, land managers, and conservationists. The program also helps to raise awareness about ecological issues, educating citizens about a species of concern and their habitats, and allowing the public to become engaged supporters of conservation.

“The state and national conservation partners continue to find innovative ways to use the information generated by our reporters to protect and raise-awareness for these awe-inspiring birds and the habitats they use,” said Maria Whitehead, project director for The Nature Conservancy. “We want to thank our contributors for their enthusiasm and the valuable information they have provided and ask that they keep up the good work!”

As one of the most conspicuous and easily identified birds in North America, the kite has proven to be an excellent candidate for a citizen-science monitoring program.

This spring and summer conservation partners will work to reach a new audience of citizen-scientists in North Carolina in hopes of collecting additional information on the distribution and abundance of kites in that state. Though long suspected a rare breeder in the state, researchers and natural resource professionals have yet to document a nest.

Help the South Carolina Working Group for Swallow-tailed Kites and the National Swallow-tailed Kite Conservation Alliance this year by reporting sightings and contributing to the Citizen-Science for Swallow-tailed Kite database. To report Swallow-tailed Kite sightings this spring or summer, call 1-866-971-7474 or link to the STKI Report form at Connect with other kite enthusiasts on our Facebook page: Citizen-Science-for-Swallow-tailed-Kites. You can also mail sightings to The Center for Birds of Prey, PO Box 1247, Charleston, SC 29402.

The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the web at To learn about the Conservancy’s global initiatives, visit To keep up with current Conservancy news, follow @nature_press on Twitter.

Contact information

Maria Whitehead

Winyah Bay and Pee Dee River Basin Project Director
The Nature Conservancy
(843) 937-8807


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