Comments: Swallow-tailed kites forage by soaring or by flying closely over or under the tree canopy, and over shrubs or grass. Sometimes they forage in large groups composed of 10 to more than 100 individuals. Prey are captured with the talons while in flight by snatching them in the air or off the surface of vegetation. Food items are principally insects (including entire wasp nests) but also include frogs, lizards, snakes, nestling birds and, less frequently, bats, fruit, hatchling alligators, and fish (Meyer 1995, Stevenson and Anderson 1994). Fruit consumption is apparently confined to the tropics (Buskirk and Lechner 1978, Lemke 1979, Stiles and Skutch 1989). In Florida, the stomachs of eight kites collected in mid-July contained 98.5 percent insects, and 2.5 percent arthropods and vertebrates including a spider (Araneae), a mite (Acarina), a green treefrog (Hyla cinerea), an anole (Anolis carolinensis), and a bat (Pipistrellus subflavus). The majority of insects eaten were grasshoppers (Orthoptera; 42.4 percent), leaf-footed bugs (Coreidae; 19.2 percent), and palmetto weevils (Rhynchophorus cruenlatus; 12.7 percent; Lee and Clark 1993).
Observations of kites feeding young in the nest suggest that vertebrates are important food items for nestlings. For example, Snyder (1974) found that insects comprised only 5 percent of the food fed to young in three nests in Florida, whereas 88 percent was comprised of vertebrates (principally hylid frogs). Likewise, insects comprised 27 percent of food fed to young in eight Florida nests, but vertebrates comprised 65 percent (mostly frogs; Meyer and Collopy 1995).
This kite drinks by skimming low over lakes, ponds, rivers, or marshes (Meyer 1995).