31 - 35cm
75 - 87cm
197 - 343g
The black-shouldered kite (Elanus caeruleus) is a small diurnal bird of prey in the family Accipitridae. It is often called the black-winged kite to distinguish it from the Australian black-shouldered kite (Elanus axillaris) which, together with the white-tailed kite (Elanus leucurus), are so similar as to be considered a superspecies.
Both sexes are alike in plumage. It is predominantly grey with black shoulder patches, wing tips and eye stripes. However, their head is generally a much light shade of white and their large forward-facing eyes are shaded by a distinctive bony shelf. They have yellow zygodactyl feet which are similar to an owl's. Their long wings extend beyond the tail when perched.
What Does it Look Like?
What Does it Sound Like?
For the most part, black-shouldered kites generally remain silent. However, they are capable of wide range of vocalisations, such as a melodious “weepweep” and a “piii-uu” sound used for displaying. It also has an alarm call which is a double whistle “plee-wit, plee-wit”. If it attacks other birds, it gives a series of shrill whistles.
They mainly prey on large insects such as grasshoppers and crickets but have adapted well to areas with large upsurges in rodent populations. It may also take small snakes and frogs. It flies slowly during hunting like a harrier, but it will also hover like a kestrel. It has on rare occasions been known to hunt prey whilst in flight.
What Does it Eat?
Where Does it Nest?
The nest is a loose platform of twigs. 3 or 4 eggs are laid, which are creamy with red spots. Both parents incubate but when the chicks hatch, the male forages for food. After fledging, the young birds continue to be dependent for about 80 days. Unlike most birds of prey, they are capable of raising multiple broods in a year.
It is found in sub-Saharan Africa and tropical Asia, but it has a foothold within Europe through Spain and Portugal and appears to be expanding into west Asia. It is thought that land-use changes, particularly agriculture and pastureland, have helped the species, as it is typically found on grassland or open plains.
Where Does it Live?
What is its Status?
It is common throughout its range, with the growing European population estimated at 1,100-2,600 pairs. Due to its dependence on agricultural land, it may become threatened by the use of pesticides. Developments also threaten the wetland habitats of this species, with many of these areas being given protected status as a result.
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