Arguably the most striking bird in the southeastern United States, the Swallow-tailed Kite is one of the rarest birds that does not have federal protection. A group of researchers, scientists, land managers, and conservationists who share a unifying passion for the bird have banded together as the South Carolina Working Group for Swallow-tailed Kites.
The Working Group includes a diverse alliance of federal, state, and non-profit partners, including U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA Forest Service, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, The Center for Birds of Prey, The Nature Conservancy, and South Carolina Audubon.
In 2007, the Working Group started an online “citizen-science” database and put out a general call to the public to report all their sightings of the bird. A conspicuous and easily identifiable species, the Swallow-tailed Kite is an excellent candidate for a citizen-science monitoring program. Signs placed at boat landings and gas stations reminded recreational boaters and outdoor enthusiasts to enter sightings in the database.
Citizen-science programs carry the additional bonus of raising awareness about ecological issues, educating citizens about a species of concern and its habitats, and allowing the public to become engaged supporters of conservation. 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 database, managed by The Center for Birds of Prey in Charleston, is now regional in scope, and sighting reports have grown to exceed 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. Because of the ease of access and accuracy of reports, this information is now being used in numerous state and national conservation and research projects.
The Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge was formed in-part to protect important Swallow-tailed Kite nesting habitat along the Waccamaw and Pee Dee river systems. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has used citizen-science data in their Strategic Habitat Conservation Plan for the Refuge and the larger Winyah Bay Focus Area and plan to incorporate it in climate change modeling exercises with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coastal Services Center.
The Nature Conservancy also used the sightings in a proposal to acquire land in a sensitive kite breeding area and was granted a $1 million North American Wetland Conservation Act (NAWCA) grant in 2009 to add approximately 450 acres to its Black River Swamp Preserve in Georgetown County. The Conservancy submitted another $1 million NAWCA grant proposal this year. All of the funds will be used for permanent protection of bottomland hardwood forests where kites breed.
Audubon South Carolina also uses the database as an outlet 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 striking and 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 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.
Winyah Bay & Pee Dee River
Basin Project Director
(843) 937-8807 ext 37
(843) 709-8663 (cell)