Birders in Essex County are flocking to catch a glimpse of a bird that rarely seen in Canada

It’s a creature not often spotted on the Canadian side of the border, and it’s presence in LaSalle is drawing bird watchers from across Ontario.

A swallow-tailed kite, a bird in the raptor family most commonly found in the southeastern United States, has made itself at home near the Vollmer Complex off Laurier Parkway for about a week now.

The rarely seen bird is attracting quite a crowd.

“It’s a rarity to show up in Essex County,” said Bob Hall-Brooks, an avid local bird watcher and bird bander, said. 

“Probably blown up here in a storm or some weather event.”

The swallow-tailed kite is rarely seen north of the border. A local sighting has birders flocking to Essex County

The swallow-tailed kite is a large bird in the raptor family. The bird is most commonly seen in the southeastern United States — especially in Florida — so its sighting in LaSalle this week has caused a stir. Birders have travelled to the region from across Ontario to catch a glimpse of the striking bird.

Since it was spotted, the swallow-tailed kite has been in and around trees and circling high over the field, hunting its prey: small mammals, snakes or frogs, or even grasshoppers. Hall-Brooks thinks the bird had plenty of luck snatching some up out of the field. 

The swallow-tailed kite is a large bird in the raptor family with a bright white head and body, with striking black feathers. 

A group of people with large cameras pointed at the sky.
Birders, many with cameras, flocked to LaSalle on Monday to catch a glimpse of the swallow-tailed kite that has taken up a residence in the area. The bird is rarely spotted this far north, typically finding its home in the southeastern United States. (Michael Evans/CBC)

The birds are most commonly found in the southeastern United States— especially in Florida — over swamps, rivers and marshes. Near the end of the summer, the bird will typically leave the United States and migrate to South America. 

“This is a bird that you’re not likely to see in this part of the world,” Hall-Brooks said. “Unless you go to Florida or Louisiana or someplace down south on a regular basis, you’re not likely to see this species. 

“The first time I saw it was yesterday and I must say it’s a magnificent bird to see.”

Hall-Brooks said so far, birders have come from Toronto, Sarnia and Woodstock to see the bird, but he’d be surprised if people didn’t come from even further afield: in the past, local rare bird sightings have drawn people from as far as California. 

Nancy Demoor came from Sombra in St. Clair Township to see the swallow-tailed kite after becoming aware of the sighting on a provincial birding Facebook page. 

A white bird with black carrying an insect in its beak
A swallow-tailed kite, native to the southeastern United States, was spotted in mid-August in LaSalle — prompting birders from across Ontario to flock to catch a glimpse. (Submitted by Bob Shpak)

“It’s not here very often or hardly at all,” Demoor said. “Every chance you get you want to see them, it’s a special bird.

“We just had a really great flyby and [it] gave us lots of opportunity for good pictures.”

While it’s a treat to see the bird in Essex County, Hall-Brooks said with the good weather — minus Thursday’s storm — there’s nothing pushing the bird south in keeping with its traditional migration pattern. 

He said that hopefully the swallow-tailed kite “will get the message at some point and will head south again.” 

Other onlookers aren’t birders, and are just drawn to the crowd of people with binoculars and large cameras. 

As for why the swallow-tailed kite has such appeal, Hall-Brooks said it’s just one that a few of us are likely to see in its natural habitat. 

A bird with black and white feathers.
A swallow-tailed kite, a bird rarely seen outside the southeastern United States, is pictured in LaSalle in mid-August. (Submitted by Bob Shpak)

“They’re interesting to us because especially if we’re not extremely wealthy and able to drop at a moment’s notice and take our private plane down to Florida, we’re not likely to see them otherwise,” he said. 

“That’s what makes it such a such an exciting find.”

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