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6

Black-shouldered Kite

(Elanus axillaris)
Size: 35-38 cm; wing span 80-95 cm
Weight: 290 g (average)

Similar species

Description     Classification     Distribution     Sightings     Photos     Breeding     Nest     Eggs     Behaviour     Food     Call/s

Physical description

Click here for a physical description

Taxonomy, classification

See Black-shouldered Kite at Wikipedia .

Range, habitat, finding this species

Click here for information on habitat and range

Sightings

Click here for sighting information

Photos

Not the photos you want? Or are you after even better quality? Have a look here .

ADULT

Close-up frontal portrait of an adult Black-shouldered Kite (photo courtesy of J. Greaves)
[Lake Claremont, Perth, WA, August 2015]

Close-up near-frontal view of an adult Black-shouldered Kite (photo courtesy of J. Greaves)
[Lake Claremont, Perth, WA, August 2015]

Close-up near-frontal view of an adult Black-shouldered Kite, now looking down (photo courtesy of J. Greaves)
[Lake Claremont, Perth, WA, August 2015]

Near-lateral view of an adult Black-shouldered Kite on its regular perch
[Eulah Creek, NSW, October 2008]

Black-shouldered Kite perched high up in a eucalypt tree; as seen from slightly below, the bird appears to be almost entirely white
[Eulah Creek, NSW, November 2007]

Slightly different viewing angle of the same Black-shouldered Kite as above
[Eulah Creek, NSW, November 2007]

Frontal view of a hovering Black-shouldered Kite
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, June 2013]

Frontal view of a hovering Black-shouldered Kite, different phase of the wingbeat
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, June 2013]

Black-shouldered Kite in flight seen from underneath
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, November 2012]

Lateral view of a Black-shouldered Kite in flight, displaying its upperwing pattern
[Goran Lake, NSW, May 2013]

Different angle showing a Black-shouldered Kite's upperwing pattern
[Near Bellata, NSW, June 2016]

Lateral view of a Black-shouldered Kite in flight
[Goran Lake, NSW, May 2013]

Dorsal view of an hovering Black-shouldered Kite (photo courtesy of J. Greaves)
[Boolardy Station, Murchison, WA, August 2016]

Different dorsal view of a Black-shouldered Kite in flight
[Goran Lake, NSW, April 2012]

IMMATURE/JUVENILE

Juvenile Black-shouldered Kite
[Eulah Creek, NSW, October 2010]

Dorsal view of an immature Black-shouldered Kite
[Eulah Creek, NSW, May 2011]

Three juvenile Black-shouldered Kites waiting to be fed...
[Eulah Creek, NSW, October 2010]

... even in the air the racket they were making did not stop
[Eulah Creek, NSW, October 2010]

Two immature Black-shouldered Kites waiting to be fed; these were of an age that they also hunted for themselves, but the parents were still feeding them
[Eulah Creek, NSW, May 2011]

Immature Black-shouldered Kite hovering...
[Eulah Creek, NSW, May 2011]

Immature Black-shouldered Kite now preparing to strike
[Eulah Creek, NSW, May 2011]

Here a different phase of the wing beat - note also the bee...
[Eulah Creek, NSW, May 2011]

The prominent alulas (feathers sticking out at the location of the wing joint) are typical of Black-shouldered Kites
[Eulah Creek, NSW, May 2011]

Immature Black-shouldered Kite with its "landing gear out" (larger version available on request)
[Eulah Creek, NSW, May 2011]

Near-dorsal view of a juvenile Black-shouldered Kite; this is the bird whose begging calls recorded on 27 November 2014
[Eulah Creek, NSW, November 2014]

Near-dorsal view of a juvenile Black-shouldered Kite; this is the bird whose begging calls recorded on 27 November 2014
[Eulah Creek, NSW, November 2014]

Breeding information

Breeding season: Apr - Nov Eggs: 2 - 4 Incubation period: 30 - 34 days Fledging age: ca. 35 days

The period listed in the table above is the core breeding period for Black-shouldered Kites. Depending on geographic latitude and given the right conditions they can in principle breed at any time of the year. They can also raise more than one brood in a good season. Note that, like many Australian raptors they usually nest through the southern winter.

Nest building: ? Incubation: Female Dependent care: Female & male

Twitcher's tip

Note that, by the time they fledge (i.e., leave their nest), the young of all species of raptors - apart from the tail and wing feathers (which are still growing) - are already full adult-size.

Territorial aerial fight between two Black-shouldered Kites
[Maules Creek, NSW, February 2015]

Nest

"bungobittah", "malunna" = nest [Aboriginal]

Type: Basket Material: Sticks; green leaves, bark lining Height above ground: 5 - 20? m

Black-shouldered Kite nest with a clutch of 5 eggs, laid at the time of a mouse plague (photo courtesy of D. Johnston)
[Goorianawa, near Coonabarabran, NSW, 1980ies]

Black-shouldered Kite nest with a clutch of 5 eggs, laid at the time of a mouse plague (photo courtesy of D. Johnston)
[Goorianawa, near Coonabarabran, NSW, 1980ies]

The chicks shown in the photo below were ready to fledge in the third week of April, implying that the eggs must have been laid around mid-February, about 4 weeks before the region had good rainfall (starting on 10 March), after more than a year of below average rain.

Black-shouldered Kite nest with two near-fledging age chicks in the top of a Currajong tree (photo courtesy of R. Druce)
[Maules Creek, NSW, April 2015]

Frontal view of a Black-shouldered Kite chick testing its wings, shwoing clearly the underwings (photo courtesy of R. Druce)
[Maules Creek, NSW, April 2015]

Dorsal view of a Black-shouldered Kite chick testing its wings, shwoing clearly the underwings (photo courtesy of R. Druce)
[Maules Creek, NSW, April 2015]

Here a nosy Peewee (Magpie-lark) is checking out the Black-shouldered Kite nest (photo courtesy of R. Druce)
[Maules Creek, NSW, April 2015]

Eggs

"boyanga", "booyanga", "derinya", "dirandil", "koomura", "ngampu", "nooluk", "pateena" = Egg; "dirundirri" = eggs [Aboriginal]; "gawu" = eggs [gamilaraay]

Size: 41 x 32 mm Colour: Creamy, with very dense dark-brown speckles Shape: Tapered oval

"Standard" clutch of 4 eggs in a Black-shouldered Kite nest (photo courtesy of D. Johnston)
[Baradine/Coonamble area, NSW, late 1980ies]

Clutch of 5 eggs in a Black-shouldered Kite nest, laid at the time of a mouse plague (photo courtesy of D. Johnston)
[Goorianawa, near Coonabarabran, NSW, 1980ies]

Behaviour

Social behaviour: Territorial Mobility: Sedentary Elementary unit: Pair

In June 2006 we saw a pair of Black-shouldered Kites hunting together along a roadside, both facing into the wind and hovering across the grass verge of the road.

The dependent young of a pair of Black-shouldered Kites were the most demanding young we have seen so far in the bird world. They not only screeched to be fed from their perch, but actively pursued their parents in flight, begging for food, and at the same time hampering their parents' efforts.

Pair of Black-shouldered Kites hunting together
[Near Narrabri, NSW, 2006]

Pair of Black-shouldered Kites perched together
[Goran Lake, NSW, April 2013]

Black-shouldered Kite wagging its tail
[Eulah Creek, NSW, August 2012]

After a violent thunderstorm we found a Black-shouldered Kite, which usually prefer to sit on high perches, on a star picket, soaking wet. It needed to dry its plumage before flying off.

Soaking wet Black-shouldered Kite
[Eulah Creek, NSW, December 2012]

The same Black-shouldered Kite as shown above, now with its inner eyelid closed
[Eulah Creek, NSW, December 2012]

Food, Diet

Adults: Mice Dependents: As adults Water intake: None

All raptors are carnivores. Black-shouldered Kites prey mostly on mice.

During the first few weeks, raptors feed their chicks with pieces of meat. Later on in their development, the chicks learn to tear apart their parents' prey.

Black-shouldered Kite with its prey - probably some kind of dove or pigeon (photo courtesy of B. Hensen)
[Eastlakes Golf Course, Sydney, NSW, September 2013]

This Black-shouldered Kite has caught a rat (photo courtesy of R. Plumtree)
[Ensay, East Gippsland, VIC, April 2015]

This Black-shouldered Kite has caught a rat (photo courtesy of R. Plumtree)
[Ensay, East Gippsland, VIC, April 2015]

Immature Black-shouldered Kite landing with its prey
[Eulah Creek, NSW, June 2008]

Closer view of an immature Black-shouldered Kite with its prey
[Eulah Creek, NSW, June 2008]

Immature Black-shouldered Kite, now plucking the mouse apart
[Eulah Creek, NSW, June 2008]

Call(s)/Song

For this species we have recorded the following call(s)/song. The interpretation of their meaning is our own; comments and suggestions for improvement are welcome.

blshkit_20141213.mp3 (NW NSW) Contact call(?) © MD
blshkit_20150715.mp3 (NW NSW) Territorial call sequence(?) © MD
blshkit_20141127.mp3 (NW NSW) Begging call (juvenile) © MD
blshkit_20141127_2.mp3 (NW NSW) Begging call (juvenile) © MD
blshkit_20141127_3.mp3 (NW NSW) Begging call (juvenile) © MD
blshkit_20141127_4.mp3 (NW NSW) Begging calls (juvenile) © MD

These pages are largely based on our own observations and those of our contributors. The structure of these bird pages is explained HERE. For more salient facts on any bird species please refer to a field guide.

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