Birders generally remember where they were when they first saw a Swallow-tailed Kite, a striking black-and-white raptor that’s a species of conservation concern. As one of the most conspicuous and easily identified birds in North America ─ and a favorite of birders ─ the kite is an excellent candidate for a citizen-science monitoring program.
The Center for Birds of Prey and the South Carolina Working Group for Swallow-tailed Kites in 2007 started an online database and put out a general call to the public to report all their sightings of the bird. Signs placed at boat landings and gas stations reminded recreational boaters and outdoor enthusiasts to enter sightings in the database.
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 in North America. The numbers and participation from neighboring states has increased each year. The program generates valuable information that is used by researchers, land managers, and conservationists. The program also helps to raise awareness about ecological issues, to educate citizens about a species of concern and its habitats, and to engage the public in supporting conservation.
The database, managed by The Center for Birds of Prey in Charleston, is now regional in scope, and sighting reports have grown to more than 1,500 annually. 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.
For example, last year, The Nature Conservancy used the sightings in a proposal to acquire land in a sensitive kite-breeding area and received a $1 million North American Wetland Conservation Act (NAWCA) grant to add approximately 450 acres to its Black River Swamp Preserve in Georgetown County. All of the funds will be used for permanent protection of bottomland hardwood forests – nesting habitat for Swallow-tailed Kites.
In addition, Audubon South Carolina uses the database to compile the results of its annual Swallow-tailed Kite survey along river systems in the coastal plain, while researchers with the Avian Research and Conservation Institute use the real-time reporting information to locate nests and roost sites in research areas across the Southeast.
State and national conservation partners continue to find innovative ways to use the information generated by citizens to protect and raise-awareness about these awe-inspiring birds. Help the South Carolina Working Group for Swallow-tailed Kites 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 www.thecenterforbirdsofprey.org. You also can mail your reports 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 protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.