Landfill employee rescues swallow-tailed kite

July 15, 2021

By Joanna Fitzgerald | Director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital

A swallow-tailed kite was among the 104 animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week. Other admissions include a chicken turtle, a black racer, four red-bellied woodpeckers, a burrowing owl, a white ibis, and two marsh rabbits.

The kite was found on the ground by a staff member at the Collier County Landfill. Although the staffer could not leave work, he did secure the kite in a box so it was kept safe until a volunteer from the wildlife hospital was able to transport the kite to our facility.

When the kite arrived at our facility, it was highly stressed, was in fair body condition, and had a decent grip when using its talons. The most notable issue was that all of the kite’s feathers were singed; the feather tips were blackened, curled, and breaking off. The kite was given an antibiotic, pain medications, electrolytes and placed in an animal intensive care unit on oxygen. A call to the County Landfill confirmed there were methane burners in the area where the kite was found.

Vet checking swallow-tailed kite

Methane gas is produced as trash decomposes. Many landfills have methane gas burners, which produce methane flares, to burn off excess methane gas. Methane flaring produces a flame that is colorless and therefore is an unseen danger until the bird flies through the burning gas. While ‘our’ kite only sustained feather damage, many birds sustain horrific burns and are fatally injured by methane flares, especially birds of prey.

Our goal was to control the kite’s pain and provide supportive care while closely monitoring her condition. The kite survived the first day of care and appeared stronger the following morning. Chinese herbs were added to the kite’s existing treatment plan. Staff offered the kite a rodent diet that the kite eager ate.

Several days have passed and the kite continues to gain strength and maintain a healthy weight; the only change is that scorched pieces of feather continue to break off. Staff is optimistic the kite will recover but she will need to stay at the center until she completely molts all her damaged feathers. A full molt could take an entire year to occur.

Thankfully, the staff member at the landfill took action and contained the kite in a secure box until help could arrive. Please, if you find a sick injured or orphaned animal, contain the animal in a box or pet carrier and bring it to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital for immediate care. If you are unsure if the animal needs help, keep an eye on the animal and call the hospital for guidance. We can assess the situation and determine the appropriate course of action.

Recent Releases

A double-crested cormorant, a fox squirrel, two mottled ducks, three eastern cottontails, five mourning doves, a blue jay, two royal terns, three common grackles, two brown thrashers, a southern toad, a northern mockingbird, a white-tailed deer and a striped mud turtle were released this past week.

Opportunities to Help

Please visit the Conservancy website at to view all of the amazing work happening at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Get involved. Your volunteer time, donations, and memberships are vital in helping us continue our work to protect Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future.

Watch Joanna Fitzgerald’s Experts and Insights to hear stories from staff and volunteers about what it’s like working at the von Arx Wildlife Hospital.