Winged Harbingers of Spring Arrive: Ospreys, Oystercatchers, & Swallow-tailed Kite

Mar 26, 2014

A Swallow-tailed Kite was seen by separate observers on March 12th in Orleans and Brewster.
Credit cuatrok77 / flickr

Ospreys, “the Cape and Islands harbinger of spring” returned on Saturday afternoon, March 15th, in at least 5 places almost simultaneously. This is very early and all these reports and careful, excited observers were accompanied by photos indicating they knew what a big deal this is. Ospreys were reported from Orleans, Dennis, Falmouth, West Barnstable and Nantucket from 2:30-4 P.M. on March 15th, which is really early. Just knowing these birds are back brings a smile to not only my face but to all happy to see that the winter is finally going to come to an end.

There were also reports of multiple American Oystercatchers in various places with groups of up 6 individuals spotted in a couple of places. That is a lot of these noisy, gregarious shorebirds that possess the world’s most colorful shucking knife for a beak at this time in March. Oystercatchers add a much needed bit of color to the drab beach in March. These hardy shorebirds will be pairing off and laying eggs by mid-April on area dunes, beaches and marshes.

Most unexpected has been the appearance of what is hand’s down the best looking raptor in the world called a Swallow-tailed Kite. A Swallow-tailed Kite was seen by separate observers on March 12th in Orleans and Brewster. Then on Saint Patrick’s Day afternoon another, or possibly the same, Swallow-tailed Kite was well seen briefly as it rocketed westward skimming the low trees and sand plain grasslands on Nantucket with a 30 knot tail wind.

As their name implies they have a long forked tail, are brilliantly marked being essentially half jet black and half bright white. They are not only great looking they are supremely graceful on the wing which is where they spend a preponderance of their time. They are a tropical species that winters in South America before heading up through Central America before crossing the Caribbean to nesting areas in Florida and Georgia. Occasionally they overshoot their breeding grounds in the spring and when they miss they can miss big.