White-tailed Kite Monitoring 2013

Juvenile White-tailed Kite. Photo by David Levasheff
Juvenile White-tailed Kite. Photo by David Levasheff

By Anna Hilliard

Two years ago, an El Tecolote article posed the question: “What might it take to create a formalized local monitoring program for the white-tailed kite?” This September, with the help of dedicated observers and coordinators, the White-tailed Kite Monitoring Project (aka Kite Watch) wrapped up its second successful season of nest and roost site monitoring sponsored by donors to the SB Audubon Society.

Under the guidance of long-time kite watcher Mark Holmgren, and project coordinators Mariah Edmonds and Anna Hilliard, student interns and community volunteers successfully collected data on breeding and roosting territories throughout the Goleta area.

After the massive influx of kites seen in the 2012 breeding season, this year’s kite crop is much more modest. Kites are capable of rearing two clutches during a breeding season if conditions are right. This season, the dry winter preceding the breeding season, combined with a lack of spring rain, appears to have reduced the local small mammal population that sustains the kites. This resulted in fewer kites seen in the area this year, and each breeding pair that did nest raised only one clutch.

Internship Program

Along with our wonderful community volunteers, eight student interns from UCSB and Santa Barbara City College joined us in Kite Watch 2013. All gave three to four hours each week to monitor kite territories and roosting sites and report their findings. Project co-coordinators Mariah Edmonds and I trained them in kite behaviors and data collection techniques early in the season, with field trips and additional training throughout the season. Mark Holmgren gave a helpful tour of the bird and mammal specimen collections at UCSB, which allowed us to get an up close view of both kites and California voles, the kites’ primary prey.

Nesting Results

Two squabbling juvenile White-tailed Kites. Photo by David Levasheff.
Two squabbling juvenile White-tailed Kites. Photo by David Levasheff.

Of the 18 historic nesting sites regularly monitored, 12 were occupied early in the season, but after May 20th, only five nesting sites remained. These produced ten nestlings, nine of which survived beyond fledging. Two other juveniles from an unknown location were found at Ellwood.

As in 2012, kites showed an affinity for nesting at the junction of neighborhoods and open spaces.

Roosting Results

In mid-July, we expanded our search to include nocturnal communal roosting sites. In the non-breeding season, September to February, kites will leave their hunting grounds near dusk and fly to a communal roost for the night. We located four roosting sites: More Mesa East, Ellwood Mesa West, Lake Los Carneros and the neighborhood east of Lake Los Carneros. Only More Mesa East was confirmed to support roosting birds coming in from nesting and hunting territories off site. Each roost site supported a small number of kites, in keeping with the smaller population numbers observed this year.

Mortality

We found two dead kites this season near the 101 freeway north of Glen Annie and one on Ellwood Beach. One of these was a juvenile still in its buffy plumage with no indication as to the cause of death.

Thank you!

Thank you to everyone who has supported this program: our interns Kevin Lamb, Gina Lamb, Jay Lin, Brett Stormoen, Ryan Newkirk, Dayton Marchese, Chandra Brown and Vinh Truong; our community volunteers Adrian O’Loghlen, Carol Rae, Gayle Hackamack, Jeff Hanson, Peggy Kearns and Brian Sieck and the entire Santa Barbara Audubon community. Mark Holmgren provided hours of instruction and insight into kite behavior and local patterns.

To view a map of the sites monitored this season, please
visit: http://tinyurl.com/kitewatch2013.