White-tailed Kites at Finley National Wildlife Refuge
November 19, 2008 edition
steve at aeroexperiments.org
White-tailed kites sometimes frequent Finley National Wildlife
Refuge, often gathering at Cabell Marsh or near the Prairie Overlook, south of the viewing platform.
In the late summer and early fall of 2003 I often saw White-Tailed
Kites in the early- to mid-morning hours at Cabell Marsh, numbering
from 10 to 20. They would typically
disperse by 10 or 11 AM.
In late October and through all of November of 2004 I frequently saw a small group
of White-Tailed Kites during the late morning hours and throughout the afternoon hours at the Prairie Overlook, south of the viewing platform. Their numbers peaked at 11 in early November
and dwindled to 3 by the end of the month.
Every evening like clockwork at sunset minus 45 minutes (plus or minus
5 minutes) they would take wing and fly to the west. On one occasion I was overflying the area as they made their
evening flight, and by keeping one in sight as it flew a thousand feet below me, I pinpointed their communal roosting area in some tall treetops on
the edge of an old clearcut, 3.0 miles due west of the Prairie Overlook, and 1.4
miles west of Bellfountain road, approximate coordinates 44 degrees 25.439
minutes North latitude, 123 degrees 21.888 degrees West longitude. This site appears to be on a timber company's
In mid-November 2007 I again checked the roost site described above, and again found it not to be in use.
On November 17 2008 I visited the Prairie Overlook and was not able to spot any White-Tailed Kites until 3:50 PM (exactly 50 minutes before sunset) when a single kite flew low overhead on a northwesterly course. I kept it in sight for about 4 minutes as it flew steadily away from me, curving leftwards to fly in a west-north-westerly direction. After 4 minutes of directed flight in no-wind conditions, the bird was at least a mile away and visible only as a tiny white speck in my 10X binoculars. As the sun illuminated the bird's brilliant white plumage, the bird appeared to flash brilliantly with each wingbeat against the dark backdrop of the distant hills-- no other raptor would have been visible at this distance against the dark terrain. When I finally lost the bird from view it was directly in line with the towers of Mary's Peak as viewed from the Prairie Overlook (bearing 296 degrees true.) This bearing suggests that the bird was flying to a different roost site than the one described above.
Based on all the above, a good strategy for observing White-Tailed Kites near the Prairie Overlook at Finley NWR is to watch for birds flying west or northwest during the period from 60 minutes to 35 minutes before sunset, particularly during the fall.