Comments: This species occupies diverse vegetation types, from sea level to elevations up to 1,850 meters; occasionally individuals wander up to 3,000 meters (Stiles and Skutch 1989). Key features of habitat include tall, accessible trees for nesting and open areas for foraging; arid areas are avoided (Meyer 1995). In the United States, nesting and foraging habitats include various pine forests and savannas, cypress swamps and savannas, cypress-hardwood swamps, hardwood hammocks, mangrove (Avicennia) swamps, narrow riparian forests, prairies, and freshwater and brackish marshes. In the tropics, this kite occurs in humid lowland and upland forests, riparian forests, cloud forests, and pine forests (Meyer 1995, Stiles and Skutch 1989).
Nests are near the tops of trees that are higher than the surrounding stand, presumably to provide easier access to the nest (Brown et al. 1997, Snyder 1974, Meyer 1995, Meyer and Collopy 1995). In south Florida, nest trees were significantly taller than random trees (Meyer and Collopy 1995). Nests most often are 8-38 meters above the ground (Brown et al. 1997, Snyder 1974, Stiles and Skutch 1989). The average nest height in South Carolina was 23 meters; in Florida mean nest height ranged from 18.2-21.7 meters (Cely and Sorrow 1990, Meyer and Collopy 1995).
Pines are the preferred nest trees. Of 151 U.S. nests, 86 percent were in pines, 7 percent in cypress (Taxodium spp.) and 7 percent in mangrove (Meyer 1995). Most nests in South Carolina, Mississippi, and Louisiana were in loblolly pine (Pinus taeda; Cely and Sorrow 1990, Meyer 1995). Elsewhere in Louisiana and Texas, nests have been found in cottonwood (Populus deltoides) and water oak (Quercus nigra; Brown et al. 1997, Meyer 1995). In south Florida, 51 percent of nests were in slash pine (Pinus elliottii), 37 percent in cypress, 12 percent in Australian pine (Casuarina equisetifolia) and 6 percent in bay (Persea spp.; Meyer 1995).