Black Kite Click to enlarge image
Black Kite Image: Koshy Koshy
creative commons

Fast Facts

  • Classification
    Species
    migrans
    Genus
    Milvus
    Family
    Accipitridae
    Order
    Falconiformes
    Class
    Aves
    Subphylum
    Vertebrata
    Phylum
    Chordata
    Kingdom
    Animalia
  • Size Range
    47 cm to 55 cm

The Black Kite is the most abundant raptor (bird of prey) in the world.

Identification

The Black Kite is a medium-sized raptor (bird of prey). 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). Both sexes are similar. Young Black Kites are generally lighter in colour than the adults, and have a comparatively shallower forked tail.

Habitat

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. Although it is more normally seen in small groups, the Black Kite may form huge flocks of many thousands of birds, especially during grasshopper plagues. No other Australian bird of prey is seen in such large flocks.

Distribution

The Black Kite's range covers the majority of the Australian mainland, as well as Africa, Asia and Europe. The Black Kite is arguably the most numerous species of raptor in the world.



Feeding and diet

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 small animals as these flee the flames. Both live and dead (carrion) prey is eaten.

Other behaviours and adaptations

They often gather and soar above fires, shooters or workers, watching for flushed prey.

Communication

The call is a descending whistle 'psee-err' followed by a staccato 'si-si-si-si-si'.

Breeding behaviours

Black Kites 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 eggs while the male provides food.

  • Breeding season: June to December
  • Clutch size: Three to four
  • Incubation: 33 days
  • Time in nest: 42 days

Conversation status

Black Kites are generally uncommon, but may be increasing in numbers after clearing and with increases in prey such as galahs, rabbits and starlings.

References

  • Marchant, S. and Higgins, P.J. (eds) 1993. Handbook of Australian New Zealand And Antartic Birds Vol. 2: (Raptors To Lapwings). Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
  • Olsen, P., Crome, F. and Olsen, J. 1993. The Birds of Prey and Ground Birds of Australia. Angus and Robertson, and the National Photographic Index of Australian Wildlife, Sydney.
  • Simpson, K and Day, N. 1999. Field guide to the birds of Australia, 6th Edition. Penguin Books, Australia.
  • Beruldsen, G 2003. Australian Birds: Their Nests and Eggs. Self-published, Queensland.
  • Hollands, D. 2003. Eagles, Hawks and Falcons of Australia. Bloomings Books. Melbourne.