Upon hearing that there are birds called “kites,” many people assume they must have been named for the kind of kite you fly on a string. Actually, it’s the other way around. The birds were named first, and the paper contraptions were named because they floated on the wind like those birds.
Kites belong to the hawk family, but they are not all closely related, and they have different shapes, habits, and diets. Of the five kites found regularly north of Mexico, for example, the White-tailed Kite swoops down to catch rodents, while the Mississippi Kite mostly pursues large insects in midair. Then there’s the Snail Kite. Gliding low and slow above marshes, it has no need for speed, since snails make up close to 100 percent of its diet.