It is a sure sign of spring, here in Florida, when the iconic outline of Swallow-tailed Kites can be seen overhead once again. These graceful black-and-white birds, with their deeply forked tails, breed near the coast from Texas to Florida and spend the winter in South America. They are just now starting to arrive in the United States again and we saw our first one this week.
Every morning they take to the sky on thermal drafts and never seem to land, always soaring like a kite and rarely flapping their wings. The bird is one of the most acrobatic flier of all raptors, being able to make sharp turns and quickly rotate its tail to trace tight circles in the sky. Swallow-tailed Kites need their mad flying skills to snatch small animals off the top of trees, which they frequently eat on the wing. In this way it catches most of its diet, which consists mainly of large insects and small birds, reptiles, mammals and amphibians who dare to sit in tree tops.
We love these beautiful birds and are looking forward to seeing them soar overhead in the coming months. Check out these cute Swallow-tailed Kite gifts from our Birdorable shop.
Photo by Artur Pedziwilk (CC BY 2.0)
The first bird in our 2014 Bonanza is a small falcon with a widespread range: the Merlin!
The Merlin is a small-sized falcon found across much of the northern hemisphere. For the most part they are migratory, breeding in the northern Holarctic (northern parts of the Old World and New World) and wintering in the tropics and subtropics. They are found in a wide variety of habitats, including open prairies, taiga forest, and shrubland.
Merlin by NatureShutterbug (CC BY-ND 2.0)
Merlins are also sometimes known as pigeon hawks. This is an old colloquial name used in North America. Merlins are similar in size to Rock Pigeons and somewhat resemble them in flight -- hence the name. There are even pigeons in their scientific name, Falco columbarius. Pigeons and doves are in the family Columbidae. As birds of prey, Merlins may also hunt and successfully take a Rock Pigeon as a meal. Like Great Horned Owls and some other birds, Merlins don't build their own nests. They reuse stick nests made by other birds, mostly crows or other raptors. Merlin joins Birdorable today as our 558th species, our 39th bird of prey, and our 9th falcon. If you like Merlins as much as we do, be sure to check out our selection of cute Birdorable Merlin t-shirts and gifts. Our Bonanza continues tomorrow with an LBJ with a lot of range. Can you guess tomorrow's species?
The Bateleur is a beautiful and rather colorful species of eagle found in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa and Arabia.
The name Bateleur means "Street Performer" in French. The bird is so named particularly after tight-rope walkers, because of its habit of rocking while soaring or gliding, as if keeping its balance. Adult Bateleurs are notable for their extremely short tails, especially when compared to other birds of prey.
It takes seven or more years for a Bateleur to reach full adult maturity; before that time their tails are actually longer than those of full-grown adults! Juvenile wing feathers are longer as well; as young birds learn to fly, they use the longer feathers to keep stable in the air. During each molt from hatching to adulthood, the wing and tail feathers grow in shorter and shorter.
The Bateleur is thought to be the species represented by stone-carved Zimbabwe Bird sculptures. The carvings, found in the ruined city of Great Zimbabwe, were created in the 11th century and later. The country is named for the ancient city and the Zimbabwe Bird is the national emblem of modern Zimbabwe.
We recently added the Bateleur to Birdorable. If you can't get enough of this very interesting and colorful bird of prey, be sure to check out our collection of cute cartoon Bateleur gifts!
We're adding new birds each day until we reach our 500th Birdorable species! Today's Bonanza bird is the Long-crested Eagle.
Long-crested Eagles live in parts of sub-Saharan Africa in forested areas or at forest edges. They can also be found on cultivated lands.
Long-crested eagle (Lophaetus occipitalis) by Lip Kee (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Long-crested Eagles are very vocal. They call in flight or when perched, and really ramp up the vocalizations when breeding season begins.
Tomorrow's bird is a New World warbler named for what it eats, sort of.
African Pygmy Falcons live in dry bush in parts of eastern and southern Africa. These little cuties measure just over seven inches long, making them the smallest bird of prey found in all of Africa.
African Pygmy Falcons, also known simply as Pygmy Falcons, have a unique way of nesting. They use empty compartments in large Sociable Weaver nest structures, or abandoned nests made by other weaver species. Pygmy Falcons are also known to nest in polyandrous groups, with more adult birds than just the breeding pair caring for nestlings and chicks. The African Pygmy Falcon was added to Birdorable on April 25, 2012. If you can't get enough of these adorable little raptors, be sure to check out our range of unique Pygmy Falcon t-shirts and gifts!