Black-shouldered Kite Facts That You Probably Don’t Know

The Black-shouldered Kite, also known by the name Australian Black-shouldered Kite, is a raptor that is widely distributed across Australia. It resembles several bird species that are found in Africa, North America, and Eurasia, including the Black-winged Kite. The Black-shouldered Kite is categorized under the Accipitridae family, which consists of birds of prey. The Black-shouldered Kite’s closest relatives include the Eurasian Eagle-Owl, King Vulture, Golden Eagle, and Red-footed Falcons.

This bird species was first written about in 1801 by John Latham, an English ornithologist and physician. Unaware of Latham’s description, English naturalist John Gould also described the same bird species 37 years later when he studied a specimen from New South Wales. Over the years, several researchers like Kenneth C. Parkes, Richard Schodde, and Ian J. Mason have  contributed to the development of the description of this bird species.

Since this bird species largely occurs in the Australian continent and in small parts of the United States, the International Union for Conservation of Energy (IUCN) Red List categorized this bird species as Least Concern.

Its seven levels of scientific classification are as follows:

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Order: Accipitriformes

Family: Accipitridae

Genus: Elanus

Species: E. axillaris

The physical characteristics of a Black-shouldered Kite

The male and female Black-shouldered Kites share the same physical attributes, except for the fact that the latter is slightly larger in size. An adult Black-shouldered Kite grows for an average of 35 cm, with a wingspan of 80 to 100 cm. A female Black-shouldered Kite weighs around 300 g, while a male weighs about 260 g.

This bird generally has a pale grey plumage and white head and underparts. A black comma-shaped mark is drawn in front of and behind its eye. Its eyes are red with black orbital rings. Its long wings are pointed, the tail is double rounded, and its short black bill is a hooked tip—so sharp it can instantly kill a prey.

The edges of its wing are black, which makes it look like it has prominent black shoulders when perched. Its feet are golden-yellow or yellow in color. On the other hand, a juvenile has a brown nape, neck, and breast. Its forehead is white, while its back and wings are brown. Its eyes dark brown that will turn red as it ages.

The distribution and habitat of Black-shouldered Kite

This bird species is endemic to Australia, but occurs more in the fertile southwest and southeast corners of mainland Australia and southeast Queensland. This species also takes refuge in small parts in north and south America, particularly in California, Texas, Chile, and Argentina.

The Black-shouldered Kites frequent a wide array of habitats such as grasslands, valleys with clumps of trees, woodland savannahs, agricultural lands with tall grass, marshlands, and forests. In urban areas, they are often seen in mown areas, wastelands, golf courses, and sports fields.

The behavior of a Black-shouldered Kite

This bird of prey usually hunts alone or with a pair. When the food is abundant in a habitat, Black-shouldered Kites form in small flocks that consist of 70 birds and feed together. When food is scarce, they become territorial.

During the non-breeding season, more than a hundred of Black-shouldered Kites roosts together in scattered trees or tall shrubs in grassland savannas.

During the breeding season, they form monogamous pairings. This usually happens between August and January. During a courtship display, a male and female Black -shouldered Kite will engage in a display fight. This is where a male will perform a “butterfly-flight,” which is characterized by a slow flight, while its flaps are stiff, and a dive to the female bird. The latter will then flip upside down to lock talons with the male.

The pair will then construct a large nest that is mostly made out of sticks, green leaves, and other matters, even cow dung, that can be found within their range. A nest is commonly placed on a tall tree, bridge, or power pole that stands 13-115 feet above the ground.

A female bird will lay 2-5 eggs, which will be incubated by the female alone for 30-31 days. After hatching, the male will be responsible for hunting and feeding the chicks and its partner for a month. After 33 or 38 days, the chicks will leave the nest to learn how to hunt themselves.

The diet of a Black-shouldered Kite

As a bird of prey, it feeds on a wide variety of creatures, both small and large. It eats rats, grasshoppers, small reptiles, birds, mice, rabbits, and small mammals. When a Black-shouldered Kite hunts, 75% of its attacks are successful. It usually hovers at a high vantage point, waiting for the perfect opportunity to seize a prey on the ground using its strong talons.