Kite’s Tongue

White-tailed Kite chick (Elanus leucurus)

Birds don’t have teeth. I knew that. It never occurred to me that they might nevertheless have tongues. But clearly they do. At least this White-tailed Kite chick has a tongue! This sent me off to do a little research, and I found this almost encyclopedic article on birds’ tongues by one Nancy E. Johnston. Johnston — small world — got hooked on birds by looking at Burrowing Owls in Cesar Chavez Park in 2006. Every bird has a tongue, she writes, and their variety is wide and amazing. Go read it.

I’m not the only photographer feasting on this high nest. Fionn Rowntree-Roberts, 14-year old son of photographer Phil Rowntree, captured this image of one of the chicks spreading its wings.

White-tailed Kite chick (Elanus leucurus) Photo by Fionn Rowntree-Roberts

This afternoon I saw one of the parents pop into the nest with something for the chicks to eat. I couldn’t see what it was; probably a good thing.

White-tailed Kite parent and chick (Elanus leucurus)

The parent cut the meal into bite-size pieces, as parents do. One of the chicks struggled to swallow what looks like a hindquarter (leg and tail) of a small rodent. In the intensity of its effort, it has closed its nictitating membrane:

White-tailed Kite chick (Elanus leucurus)

The feeding chore finished, the parent did something that surprised me greatly. It grabbed a twig from the top of the nest — the lying J shaped one front right in the photo above — and flew off with it southward and out of sight. I was grateful, since that branch had blocked my view of a chick earlier. But what could the parent have been thinking?

White-tailed Kite (Elanus leucurus)

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