Bird GuideHawks and EaglesHook-billed Kite

At a Glance

A recent arrival north of the border, this sluggish tropical hawk was first found in southern Texas in 1964, and has been a regular resident there since 1975. May be seen sailing over the trees or sometimes soaring high, but spends much of its time down within the canopy of the woods, where it searches for its staple food of tree snails. Usually in pairs or family groups in Texas, but has been seen in flocks in South America.
Hawk-like Birds, Hawks and Eagles
Low Concern
Forests and Woodlands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets
Direct Flight, Soaring

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

Apparently permanent resident throughout its range; present year-round in southern Texas.


15-17" (38-43 cm). W. 33 (84 cm). Large hooked bill, pale eyes. In flight, wings rounded at tips, narrow at base, outer part of wings heavily barred. Overall color varies: adult male mostly gray; female has rusty bars below, rusty collar, brown back, dark cap; juvenile brown on back, barred below.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Mallard or Herring Gull
Black, Brown, Gray, Red, White, Yellow
Wing Shape
Broad, Fingered
Tail Shape
Long, Rounded, Square-tipped

Songs and Calls

Musical whistles; harsh chattering during courtship or when disturbed.
Call Type
Chatter, Whistle


In Texas, found in native deciduous woodland in subtropical zone along lower Rio Grande. Farther south found in various kinds of forest; in Mexico favors deciduous and semi-arid woodlands, but also found in humid tropical forest farther south. High numbers of tree snails may be most important aspect of habitat.



2, sometimes 3. White, heavily marked with dark brown. Incubation is apparently by both sexes, with incubation period unknown.


Probably both parents feed the young. Age at first flight unknown; young may remain with parents for several months.

Feeding Behavior

Foraging behavior not well known. Apparently forages by climbing and walking about in upper branches of trees, looking for tree snails. On finding a snail, kite holds it against branch with left foot, uses hooked bill to break open shell. This species is remarkably variable in bill size, and smaller-billed birds tend to eat smaller snails.


Mostly tree snails. Aside from snails, reported to eat frogs, salamanders, and insects.


Details of breeding behavior not well known. Courtship display reportedly involves two birds flying in tight circles, diving at each other and calling. In Texas, nesting activity has been noted mostly in May and June. Nest site is in tree, 15-25' above ground. Nest (apparently built by both sexes) is a flimsy platform of sticks.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

As a recent arrival in Texas, this kite seems to require nothing more than undisturbed nest sites and a good supply of tree snails. Probably has declined in many parts of tropical range with clearing of woods. Two related forms in West Indies (Cuba, Grenada) are endangered.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Hook-billed Kite. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Hook-billed Kite

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.