Musing of an Old Geezer #5: That time I lost my mind to Swallowtail Kites . . .

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Blog entry by GnarlyErik posted 08-31-2021 05:57 PM 564 reads 0 times favorited 1 comment Add to Favorites Watch
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In late May of 2021 a bird flew into my view as I sat innocently in the doorway of my garage/workshop. It hovered in mid air for two or three-seconds about ten feet away and directly in front of me, but long enough for me to get a really good look at it. It was a spectacular animal, and a kind I’d never seen before. It was about the size of a skinny seagull and snow white with black trimmed wings. It was really one of those ‘WOW’ moments!

I ran right inside to my computer to look the bird up. I found that the bird was a Swallowtail Kite and native to my area, but at the extreme northern limit of its range about thirty miles north of Tallahassee, Florida in extreme southern Georgia where I now live. I was smitten instantly, and determined to get pictures. I researched its food preferences which are primarily insects, lizards, small frogs, and things of that sort. I immediately went to the local Walmart to buy some small soft plastic reptile toys.

I set these out in likely places (to my eye) and set up my “trail camera”: But what I discovered was my ‘bait’ attracted Mockingbirds instead. There are many of those in my neighborhood. I could just imagine the disgust of those birds when they grabbed a juicy looking lizard only to find it was plastic!

But, I’d read that the Swallowtail Kites also prey on small birds, so a light went off in my head. I made some two-dimensional plywood cutouts and glued printed Mockingbird pictures to them and set those out with the trail camera trained on them. The problem was that those angered my resident Mockingbirds which attacked them at first until they discovered they were fake birds, and then ignored them.

But the Swallowtail Kites were definitely interested and I managed to catch a few clips of them flying by at warp speeds as they checked them out. One actually directly attacked a Mockingbird decoy but my camera caught only its rear end because I had clamped the decoy to the top of the trail camera. Big mistake! A word to anyone using a trail camera with decoys: Place your decoys IN FRONT of the camera instead of on top!

I’ll admit it did make my heart go pitter-patter when I viewed the pictures, but I had mistakenly set the trail camera to single-shot mode, so only got individual pictures instead of a video clip, or a full view of the bird. There is a 2/10ths second lag time between the sensor on the trail camera and its shutter, and these birds are just too fast!

Still not being satisfied I decided to make a lifelike three-dimensional “Mockingbird decoy”: With the help of my wife we made a fairly real looking bird. This was carefully set up along with some other 2-D decoys, but alas, not a thing – unless you count Cicadas flying by – 2021 was their year after all.

You can view a short video of what modest success I had here (NOTE) Be sure to watch full-screen in order to spot the action – it’s very fast!:

I think my Swallowtail Kites have finished rearing their brood now and the entire family has taken off on their winter migration to Brazil. But, there’s always next year, and this time I will be prepared!

Video on Youtube:

Trail camera setup:

Mockingbird Decoy:

-- "Never let your dogma be run over by your karma!"

1 comment so far

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3354 posts in 3854 days

#1 posted 08-31-2021 08:01 PM

Nice! You did as good a job as possible capturing images of those birds.

-- I intended to be a woodworker, but turned into a tool and lumber collector.

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