Our local Square-tailed Kites have done it again – their third successive year of two healthy young kites! Mum and Dad kites must be congratulated for their excellent parenting. The nest is made of lots of thin branches, and set in a forked messmate with four supporting branches of approximately similar diameter. Although the Porcupine Ridge bushland was spared from the worst of the wind storms, this nest has withstood the windy year of 2022 which is quite an achievement.
The parent kites have also selected an area with plenty of food. Once the young kites get to fledging size they are as large as the parents – and must be fed regularly. This means at one point in the year this bush area needs to sustain at least four Square-tailed Kites! That is a large volume of young birds, and small adult birds. I believe they will also eat large insects and lizards, but nestlings are their preferred food.
This is probably more due to luck – the parents have also done well to select a nest site on private land, away from any disturbance such as salvage logging. The landholders leave their kites alone and remove little or no native vegetation on their block. They love their kites!
It is so funny what a very long and very cold wet winter will do to your mind – I was absolutely convinced that the cold weather in 2022 meant that the kites’ nesting period had started very late indeed. Remember the absolutely freezing October and November we had? Well, I observed Mrs Square-tailed Kite ( as I call her) brooding on the nest on 10 October 2022. When I sat down to check my records on Birdata and on the previous blog post, this was in fact earlier than the previous year – first observed on the nest 15 October 2021! This shows how valuable written notes with dates can be – our memory and the context can play tricks on us!
The nest is quite far from the road, and even though I have permission from the landholders to go closer to the nest, the roadside is at a good angle for viewing as it it across the forest. It is very easy to lose the nest in the crowded regrowth forest and binoculars and or a telephoto lense are essential! This is the way to watch an active nest – from as far away as possible – to avoid disturbing the parents, and secondly to avoid alerting predators to the location of the nest!
This year, I missed the white fluffy down stage of the chicks – possibly because after three years the nest is quite bulky and the nestlings are quite small when they are covered with down feathers. The photo below, taken by Jane Rusden on 1st January 23 shows the last of the downy white feathers, with that magnificent rufous or red plumage coming through. It was quite a hot day that day, so you can see the nestling’s bills are open. This helps them cool down.
A week or two later, I was watching the nest with a couple of friends, again from the roadside. Mrs Square-tailed Kite was in attendance, so Trevor and Margot could see the adult’s lovely white face, which is so unusual for a raptor! Both male and female adult kite have white faces. We were all thrilled to bits when another kite, presumably Dad wafted rapidly through the tree canopy and dropped something in the nest in a silent fly by!
On the 22nd January on yet another visit to our beautiful kites, Gayle managed to take this photo of the young kites in all their rich rufous glory! It is a little blurry but honestly I think its wonderful!
Each year the young kites have spent a bit of time around the nest carrying out a behaviour known as branching. Branching is when the young kites start to venture from sitting in the nest to clambering up and down the branches surrounding the nest. This helps them exercise their leg muscles, improve their coordination and literally stretch their wings. Small practice flights also occur at this time.
On 30 January, I returned to find the nest empty and no sign of the kites. Later that morning, I spotted one juvenile perching on a branch near the nest, then flying expertly away. Last year the young were seen near the nest, and even IN the nest having a rest, right up until the ned of February – so Square-tailed Kite season isn’t over for me yet!
What an extraordinary privilege!