Photo: Jason Crotty/Flickr Creative Commons

White-tailed Kite

Elanus leucurus

As recently as the 1940s, this graceful hawk was considered rare and endangered in North America, restricted to a few sites in California and Texas. In recent decades, it has increased greatly in numbers and spread into many new areas. It is often seen hovering on rapidly beating wings over open fields, looking for small rodents, its main food source. The introduction of the house mouse from Europe may have played a part in its increase; formerly, the kite fed almost entirely on voles.
Conservation status North American population has been increasing and spreading since about the 1930s, invading many new areas where it was never known historically. Has also spread and increased in American tropics with clearing of forest.
Family Hawks and Eagles
Habitat Open groves, river valleys, marshes, grasslands. Found in a wide variety of open habitats in North America, including open oak grassland, desert grassland, farm country, marshes. Main requirements seem to be trees for perching and nesting, and open ground with high populations of rodents.
As recently as the 1940s, this graceful hawk was considered rare and endangered in North America, restricted to a few sites in California and Texas. In recent decades, it has increased greatly in numbers and spread into many new areas. It is often seen hovering on rapidly beating wings over open fields, looking for small rodents, its main food source. The introduction of the house mouse from Europe may have played a part in its increase; formerly, the kite fed almost entirely on voles.
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Feeding Behavior

Hunts mostly by flying over open country, pausing frequently to hover and study the ground; on sighting prey, it dives, catching prey in its talons.


Eggs

Usually 4, sometimes 5, rarely 3-6. May tend to lay larger clutches in years when rodents are abundant. Eggs creamy white, blotched with shades of warm brown. Incubation is by female, 26-32 days. Male usually perches nearby, and brings food to female during incubation. Young: Female broods young while they are small; male brings food, and female feeds it to nestlings. Later, prey is dropped into nest, and young feed on it themselves. Young are able to fly at about 30-35 days, but may return to nest to sleep or to be fed for some time after. Adults may nest a 2nd time in same season, and if so, young from first nesting may be driven from territory.


Young

Female broods young while they are small; male brings food, and female feeds it to nestlings. Later, prey is dropped into nest, and young feed on it themselves. Young are able to fly at about 30-35 days, but may return to nest to sleep or to be fed for some time after. Adults may nest a 2nd time in same season, and if so, young from first nesting may be driven from territory.

Diet

Mostly small rodents. Specializes on small rodents that are active by day in open country, particularly voles and house mice. Other items in diet, mostly of minor importance, include pocket gophers, harvest mice, rats, shrews, young rabbits, sometimes birds. Rarely may eat snakes, lizards, frogs, large insects.


Nesting

In courtship, male flies near female in odd hovering with wings in sharp "V," calling; male feeds female. Nest site is in top of tree, usually 20-50' above ground, sometimes higher or lower depending on available sites. Live-oak often chosen as nest site. Nest (built by both sexes) is a good-sized platform of sticks and twigs, lined with grasses, weeds, Spanish moss.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

No regular migration, but wanders widely.

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Migration

No regular migration, but wanders widely.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A whistled keep-keep-keep; also a longer, plaintive kreep.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Hawks and Eagles Hawk-like Birds

White-tailed Kite

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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