Birding Thursday: White-tailed Kite
This is quite possibly the raptor species that got me interested in raptors in the first place. In 2008 I was volunteering with the Sea and Sage Audubon Society to monitor nesting White-tailed Kites and traveling to various parks/preserves/wildlife areas in the county to try and find any of these birds that I could. I was working full time but luckily had a very open schedule so I was able to spend a lot of time in the field looking for them.
I remember the first time I actually saw this kite. I was sitting on a park bench staring off into the distance over an open grassland field adjacent to some forested area. I wasn’t expecting to see anything except maybe some mallards to fly through, when this bird came into view. I had never seen this bird before in my life, even though I had spent so much time searching for it and finally, there it was. Soaring off in the distance was this very clean, white and black bird, circling and hunting for prey. Then I saw the bird “kite,” an action these birds are named for, where they are able to use the wind to their advantage and stay stationary in the sky by flapping a certain way. I was in aw over the grace and beauty this bird had just simply by being there.
I watched it hunt for what felt like an eternity when it finally landed on a tree top and I was able to really focus in on the individual. The first thing I saw was a very distinguishing mark on the adults, their RED EYES. They make them look demonic to be honest, but alluring all at the same time.
I never get tired of seeing these birds out in the field. Since I started helping monitor their populations 5 years ago they have made a pretty good comeback as I see them more often than I ever did back in 2008! Yay for helping working with repopulating them in Southern California!
Anyhow, how about some facts about these beauties?!
This raptor is on the smaller side compared to most buteos with only a three foot wingspan and a body ranging between 12-14 inches long. They are often present in open areas like grasslands, agricultural areas, marshes and the like. They are quite keen on finding their prey of small mammals like mice and voles to hunt. They will also eat other things like small birds, reptiles and amphibians.
They create stick nests in trees and can lay between 3-5 eggs for each clutch. It takes 30-32 days of incubation before the chicks are born and don’t fledge until they 5-6 weeks old. Most often White-tailed kites will have one clutch but if prey is abundant, they can succeed in having two.(Source)
These birds, like most falcons, have a red eye when they mature. But unlike other falcons they roost communally, with counts as high as over 100 birds! Much research is needed about these birds as scientists do not know if they migrate, are nomadic, or both!
I hope that you are able to one day see this bird out in the wild. Pay attention to those open fields…they may seem boring to look at, but just look a tad bit up, and you just might see one of these beauties kiting in the sky above you.
Until next Birding Thursday!