White-tailed KiteElanus leucurus

adult
Brian K. Wheeler/VIREO
juvenile
Alan David Walther/VIREO
juvenile
Brian K. Wheeler/VIREO
adult
Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO
adult
Thomas McNish M./VIREO
White-tailed Kite

Description

15-16" (38-41 cm). W. 3' 4" (1 m). A delicate, graceful, gull-like bird of prey. Largely white, with gray back, black patch on shoulder and undersurface of the pointed wing, and white tail. The back and breast of young birds are streaked with warm brown. Often dangles its feet in flight.

Voice

A whistled keep-keep-keep; also a longer, plaintive kreep.

Listen

grating calls

Habitat

Open country and farmlands with scattered trees or fencerows; mesquite grasslands.

Range

Resident in coastal and interior California, Arizona, and southern Texas. Also in American tropics.

Discussion

The tame, elegant White-tailed Kite was formerly shot in large numbers by farmers who thought it threatened their chickens, although the birds feed almost entirely on insects and a few small rodents. The North American population was reduced to a pitiful remnant, and it was feared that the species might become extinct here. White-tailed Kites have since made a spectacular comeback in California and Texas and are now common in suitable lowland habitats. Like other kites, they are sociable outside the breeding season, congregating at roosts in groups of a dozen or more. They feed mainly on small rodents and insects, which they locate by hovering kestrel-like high in the air. These kites prefer to rest on treetops or other high lookouts.

Nesting

4 or 5 white eggs, heavily spotted with brown, in a nest of sticks and twigs lined with grass and placed in a tall tree, usually near water.

Similar Species

adult

Swallow-tailed Kite

22-24" (56-61 cm). W. 4' 2" (1.3 m). A graceful bird of prey, with long pointed wings and deeply forked tail; head and underparts white; back, wings, and tail black.

adult male

Mississippi Kite

12-14" (30-36 cm). W. 3' (91 cm). A small bird of prey with narrow pointed wings. Adult gray, paler below and on head; tail and outer flight feathers in wings blackish, inner flight feathers whitish.

Vireo

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