Black Kite

Black Kite perching at the top of a dead tree in late afternoon sunlight

Scientific Name: Haliastur migrans

Size: TL 47 to 55 cm

What does it look like?

The Black Kite is a medium-sized bird of prey (raptor). From a distance it appears almost black, with a light brown bar on the shoulder. The plumage is actually dark brown, with scattered light brown and rufous markings, particularly on the head, neck and underparts. The tail is forked and barred with darker brown. This feature gives the bird its alternative name of Fork-tailed Kite. The eye is dark brown and the bill is black with a yellow cere (area of skin around the nostrils). The call is a descending whistle “psee-err” followed by a staccato “si-si-si-si-si”. Both sexes are similar.

Young Black Kites are generally lighter in colour than the adults, and have a comparatively shallower forked tail. The Black Kite’s drab plumage makes it sometimes difficult to distinguish from other raptors, such as the Little Eagle, Hieraaetus morphnoides, Whistling Kite, Haliastur sphenurus, and Square-tailed Kite, Lophoictinia isura. In flight, however, its long forked tail and almost unmarked underwing make it unmistakable.

Where is it found?

Its range covers the majority of the Australian mainland, as well as Africa, Asia and Europe. Often, the Black Kite may form huge flocks of many thousands of birds, especially during grasshopper plagues, but it is more normally seen in small groups. No other Australian bird of prey is seen in such large flocks.The Black Kite is arguably the most numerous raptor species in the world.

What are its habitats & habits?

The Black Kite is found in a variety of habitats, from timbered watercourses to open plains, and is often observed in and around outback towns.

The Black Kite preys on lizards, small mammals and insects, especially grasshoppers. It also is a scavenger, and frequents tips in outback towns. Black Kites also gather in flocks around bush fires, and eagerly pounce on prey species as they flee the flames. Both live and dead (carrion) prey is eaten.

 Black Kites may breed at any time of year, but usually between August and November. They may nest in isolated pairs or in small, scattered colonies. As with other raptors, a ritualised aerial courtship display is performed by both sexes. This involves loud calling, grappling of feet (talons), and tumbling or cartwheeling. The nest is a bulky cup of sticks, lined with softer material, and is placed in the fork of a tree branch (generally close to the trunk). The female incubates the 1 to 3 eggs while the male provides food. The young birds hatch after about a month and leave the nest (fledge) after a further 40 days.

Interesting facts

Often, the Black Kite may form huge flocks of many thousand birds, but it is more normally seen in small groups or alone.

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Front cover of Australia's Birdwatching Megaspots book showing a picture of an Eastern Spinebill

This species features in my book Australia’s Birdwatching Megaspots

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