Bird GuideHawks and EaglesWhite-tailed Kite

At a Glance

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.
Category
Hawk-like Birds, Hawks and Eagles
Conservation
Low Concern
Habitat
Coasts and Shorelines, Desert and Arid Habitats, Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets
Region
California, Florida, Northwest, Southeast, Southwest, Texas
Behavior
Direct Flight, Hovering
Population
260.000

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

No regular migration, but wanders widely.

Description

15-16" (38-41 cm). W. 3' 4 (1 m). Gray and white, with black on shoulders and under bend of wing. May suggest a gull more than another hawk. Juvenile has brown markings on chest and back, but basic pattern is recognizable.
Size
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Mallard or Herring Gull
Color
Black, Gray, Yellow
Wing Shape
Pointed, Tapered
Tail Shape
Long, Notched, Rounded, Square-tipped

Songs and Calls

A whistled keep-keep-keep; also a longer, plaintive kreep.
Call Pattern
Falling, Flat, Rising
Call Type
Chirp/Chip, Scream, Whistle

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.

Behavior

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.

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.

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.

Climate Vulnerability

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.

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 White-tailed Kite. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the White-tailed 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.

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