Black-shouldered Kite

Did you know?

Male Black-shouldered Kites feed females in mid-air during courtship. The female flips upside-down and accepts the food from the male, while the two birds are locked briefly together in flight with their feet holding the prey.

Calls
Harsh wheezing 'scaarrp'; also clear 'chee' calls in flight and while hovering.
Facts and Figures
Research Species: 
No
Minimum Size: 
33cm
Maximum Size: 
38cm
Average size: 
36cm
Average weight: 
291g
Breeding season: 
July to December
Clutch Size: 
2 to 5 eggs
Incubation: 
34 days
Nestling Period: 
38 days
Conservation Status
Federal: 
NSW: 
NT: 
QLD: 
SA: 
VIC: 
WA: 
Basic Information
Scientific Name: 
Atlas Number: 
232
What does it look like?
Description: 

Black-shouldered Kites are medium to small raptors (birds of prey), and are mostly pale grey above, with a pure white head, body and tail and black shoulders. The wings are white underneath, with black wing tips and the wing span is 80 cm to 100 cm. Females are larger than males. The red eye is marked by a black comma that extends behind it. The nostrils are yellow and the legs and feet are also yellow. The Black-shouldered Kite has a direct flight with quick shallow wing beats interspersed with glides on upswept wings (like a seagull), and is often seen hovering, with feet dangling.

Similar species: 

The Black-shouldered Kite is very similar to the related raptor (bird of prey) species, the Letter-winged KiteE. scriptus, but has a distinctive black comma shape above and behind the eye, lacks the black underwing 'w' or 'm' pattern, and has a white rather than grey crown. The Letter-winged Kite also has a slower, deeper wing beat when flying.

Where does it live?
Distribution: 

The Black-shouldered Kite is found across mainland Australia.

Habitat: 

The Black-shouldered Kite is found in treed grasslands and on farms, along roads, and in vacant waste lands of urban and coastal areas.

Seasonal movements: 

Nomadic; populations may irrupt in response to mouse plagues in particular areas.

What does it do?
Feeding: 

The Black-shouldered Kite feeds mainly on rodents, particularly the introduced House MouseMus musculus, often following mouse plagues in agricultural areas. Also will eat insects such as grasshoppers. It prefers to hunt during the day, particularly early morning and late afternoon, often hovering with its wings held upright in a V-shape, before dropping down and grabbing prey with its talons. Prey items are eaten while flying or on a perch, which can be a high tree or an artificial structure, e.g. a powerpole.

Breeding: 

The Black-shouldered Kite forms monogamous pairs. During courtship, the male will feed the female in mid-air: she will flip upside down and take food with her feet from his, while both are flying. Both sexes build the nest, which is a large untidy shallow cup of sticks, on high tree or on an artificial structure such as a bridge or power pole. The young birds can feed themselves seven days after fledging and leave their parents within a month.

Living with us

The Black-shouldered Kite has expanded its range since European arrival, benefitting from land-clearing and irrigation practices that create suitable habitat, and numbers often increase in response to mouse plagues around crops and granaries. However, some populations may be affected in areas with high sheep and rabbit numbers, as these animals can reduce suitable habitat for prey items (by compacting the soil and reducing feed). The Black-shouldered Kite sometimes uses artificial structures such as bridges and poles for nesting.

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