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Double-toothed Kite

Dave Hanson photographed an unidentified hawk near the "cathedral" area at Boy Scout Woods, High Island (Galveston County) on May 4th, 2011. Mr. Hanson was looking back through his photos in late June (2011) when he came across the photos of this raptor that he initially thought might be a Cooper's Hawk . The photos were circulated to a few experts and all agreed the bird in the photos was a Double-toothed Kite (Harpagus bidentatus), a first-year bird and likely a female. Mr Hanson was kind enough to meet one of the TBRC members in late June (2011) at the "cathedral" to point out/document the perch where the bird was photographed almost two months prior.

Double-toothed Kites are birds of evergreen forests and can be found in parts of South America and Central America, and range only as close as southern Mexico (south-central Veracruz). Per the current literature, they are not a species that is prone to vagrancy and the obvious question of provenance was certainly the central issue when the TBRC voted on this record since the identification was not in question.

The TBRC sought out input from various expert birders with Double-toothed Kite experience over this species' range in an effort to arrive at a more informed decision. Though none could offer a detailed scenario of how or why this particular Double-toothed Kite ended up on the Upper Texas Coast, several of the experts were open to the idea that this species had the potential to wander to remote areas. Some of their points included:

- This species is known to frequently soar to great heights. It seemed conceivable that a soaring bird pushed a bit by strong (south) winds and/or a thunderstorm might soon find itself far away from home. 
- There has been a slight increase in sightings of Double-toothed Kite in w. Mexico in recent years (where only tiny pockets of evergreen forest exist) and there are areas in Central America where the species has been found only as a seasonal resident, with birds not found year-round. The possibilities illustrated here are that this species may either be expanding or is perhaps undetected in a few areas and seems to undergo some seasonal movements in parts of its range.

- One expert had experience with an individual he saw on Ambergris Caye in Belize where the bird must have crossed ~10 miles of water and a "goodly amount of atypical habitat" to reach that land, illustrating an instance of wandering.
- One expert noted that the only other member of the genus, the Rufous-thighed Kite (Harpagus diodon), is a long-distance migrant.
- Nobody had any knowledge of this species being held in captivity, nor did any mention it as being likely. A search of the regular sources for captive birds showed no Double-toothed Kites in captivity.

Based on many of these points, the TBRC voted (8-1) to accept this record for the state list. Though the TBRC does not claim to KNOW that this particular bird arrived on the Texas coast of its own free will, the plausibility of this happening does not seem to be out of the question and most members deemed it more likely than an unnatural scenario where a captively held raptor would have ended up at Boy Scout Woods. We acknowledge that this was a judgement call where definite proof of provenance is unattainable and recognize that others may come to different conclusions. Indeed, the ABA Checklist Committee will be voting on this same record in the next few months to decide if they see the circumstances the same way as the TBRC.

Eric Carpenter
Secretary, Texas Bird Records Committee, May 2012.

UPDATE:
In November 2012, based on the material that the TBRC gathered on this record plus further study, the ABA Checklist Committee voted unanimously to accept this species as a naturally occurring vagrant and added it to the ABA Checklist.

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