Swallow-tailed Kites breed in swamps, lowland forests, and marshes of the southeastern United States, primarily in Florida and South Carolina. They require tall trees for nesting and open areas full of small prey to feed their nestlings. Nesting and foraging habitat includes slash pine wetlands, edges of pine forest, cypress swamps, wet prairies, freshwater and brackish marshes, hardwood hammocks, and mangrove forests. The northern subspecies winters in South America, apparently in the same year-round habitat as the southern subspecies, in sites that remain wet enough during the winter to support prey. These may include humid lowland forests, riparian forests, and forests mixed with savannas. Swallow-tailed Kites are usually found at low elevations, but members of the southern subspecies often breed in sites more than a mile high, given adequately humid conditions.

The Mississippi Kite makes a streamlined silhouette as it careens through the sky on the hunt for small prey, or dive-bombs intruders that come too close to its nest tree. These sleek, pearly gray raptors often hunt together and nest colonially in stands of trees, from windbreaks on southern prairies to old-growth bottomlands in the Southeast (and even on city parks and golf courses). After rearing their chicks they fly all the way to central South America for the winter.