Resident Raptor - White-tailed Kite
Anu & Dakini
Anu & Dakini These females, with two other siblings, were displaced when their nest tree was cut down in June 2006. They were taken to Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek CA and were placed in a hack box to prepare them for release.
Unfortunately, they were released at fledging age right before a 10 day period of extremely high temperatures - 100-114°F - and were sufficiently disoriented that they did not come back to the hack box for food and water. One youngster died of kidney damage from dehydration, and by the time they could be re-trapped, the resulting heat stroke and debilitation caused brain damage in the others, making them incapable of surviving in the wild.
White-tailed Kites (Elanus leucurus)
Not often confused with other raptors, the White-tailed kite can be identified in the field
fairly easily. Small to medium in size, kites have long white tails with relatively long, thin
and pointed wings. Wing and tail shape help them maintain a hovering position in the air.
Adults are white underneath and gray on the back. Sexes are similar in size but the female
may be darker on the back. While in flight a characteristic black spot can be seen at the
bend of the underside of the wing. Their yellow legs are short, and their toes are stout.
Adults have red eyes.
These small bodied raptors are unique in their hover-hunting style. Rarely seen perch-
hunting, like other raptors, these birds hover 5-25 meters off the ground, both early and
late in the day. Facing into the wind, they scan back and forth for prey items; while also
scanning side to side for predators and competitors. These hovers last between one
second to less than one minute. Longer hovers have been recorded during windy
conditions. The hover sessions end in either a dive to the ground with wings in a vertical
position and feet extended out for prey or to another hover location. Sometimes, these
hovers will also end in an interaction with another bird or the kite flying to a perch to end
the hunting session.
Size - Length: 12.5 - 15.0" • Wing Span: 40" • Weight: 10.8 - 12.2 oz.
Status - During the early 20th century White-tailed kites were
threatened with extinction in North America. However, populations recovered and the species even extended its
range in the western United States. Habitat loss, beginning in the 1980's, has once again
threatened the White-tailed kite. This species is both state and federally protected.
Habitat - Hover hunting requires open spaces. Habitats that are used
by the white tailed kite include: low elevation grasslands, agricultural areas, wetlands and savannas.
Diet - White-tailed kites are small mammal specialists, with over 95%
of their prey items consisting of rodents. Other items, such as lizards, birds and insects, are taken
Call - Most common call is a kewt, given singly or spaced by
1-2 seconds. Resembles an osprey call but is more whistle-like. Another common call is the eee-grack
which sounds much like a frog call. Babies have a loud, raspy hunger call that is fairly insistent.
Nesting - They are tree nesters and build stick nests, which can
start fairly early in winter, soon after courtship - which can be as early as December. The nest building
occurs slowly over the course of several weeks, and the nest is then lined with grass, weeds or leaves. Rigid
territoriality is not seen in this species. During the breeding season pairs do protect an area from
conspecifics; however, the size of this area depends on prey abundance and nest site availability. During the
non-breeding season, kites can be found in small stands of trees communally roosting with more than 100
individuals. Usually, though, these communal roosts have between 10-40 individuals. Population density
at these roost sites is limited by the abundance of prey in the area.
Most Common Problems - Relatively new to the Willamette Valley of
Oregon, there has not yet been a White-tailed kite brought into care at the Cascades Raptor Center. Habitat is being lost to increased residential and commercial development of open areas in all western states and in Florida.