Term of Award

2004

Degree Name

Master of Science in Biology

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (restricted to Georgia Southern)

Department

Department of Biology

Committee Chair

C. Ray Chandler

Committee Member 1

Lissa Leege

Committee Member 2

Stephen Vives

Abstract

The Swallow-tailed Kite (Elatwides forficatas) is a rare Neotropical migrant raptor that breeds in the United States and winters in South America. Despite intense conservation concern, relatively little is known about the factors that may limit Swallow-tailed Kite populations. I examined three aspects of the annual cycle that could have conservation significance: stopover behavior on Cuba and the Yucatan Peninsula, range-wide habitat associations, and parasites. Because Cuba and the Yucatan Peninsula are situated along the migratory route after a long over-water crossing, they may be potentially important stopover sites. To examine this prediction, 29 satellite-tracked kites from the U.S. were monitored to quantify migration rates and movements. Swallow-tailed Kites do not show significant stopover on Cuba. However, as predicted, kites slowed down and moved around the Yucatan more than any other location along the migration route. Locations from satellite-tracked and VHF-tagged birds were also analyzed to determine habitat use versus availability in the Yucatan using GIS. Kites selected low forests and avoided disturbed areas and areas without vegetation. I examined habitats use on a range-wide scale to see if kites were more selective during one season than others. Nests and satellite-telemetry locations were analyzed with CIS to assess broad-scale habitat associations during the breeding, stopover, and winter phases of the annual cycle. I found that kites were associated with forest habitats in all seasons. However they use forests more than expected by chance during winter and breeding, and less than expected during stopover. Additionally, kites only preferred wetlands during the breeding season. Kites were most selective (use differed from availability by the greatest amount) in habitat choice during the breeding season. Lastly, kites in Florida and Georgia were examined for blood parasites (blood smears) and ectoparasites (dusted with pyrethrin). I found one trypanosome and two microfilaria in the blood of three birds. This was the first time kite blood had been examined for parasites. I found six ectoparasite species (mean of 21.5 specimens/individual), including three Mallophagan chewing lice (Cuculiphilus decoratus, Colpocephalum osborni, and Degeeriella guimaraesi), one blood sucking mite (Ornithonyssus bursa). and two undescribed mites (Acari: Gabuciniidae). The new mites include an Aetacarus sp. and a species that may represent a new genus. My results expand our knowledge of the annual cycle of the Swallow-tailed Kite, thereby improving opportunities of conservation for this rare species.

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