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6

Whistling Kite

(Haliastur sphenurus)
Alternate name(s): "Whistling Hawk", "Carrion Hawk"; misnomer: "Whistling Eagle"
Aboriginal name(s): "djando" (WA); "kirrkie"

Size: male 50 cm, female 65 cm; wing span up to 1.7 m
Weight: 380-1050 g

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 Whistling 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

Sex unknown

Frontal view of an adult Whistling Kite (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Buffalo Creek, Darwin, NT, July 2020]

Frontal/ventral view of a Whistling Kite
[Yarrie Lake, near Wee Waa, NSW, September 2013]

Near-frontal view of a Whistling Kite looking sideways (photo courtesy of )
[Hasties Swamp, near Atherton, QLD, September 2020]

Near-frontal view of a Whistling Kite
[Lee Point, Darwin, NT, August 2014]

Near-frontal view of a Whistling Kite (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Near St. George, QLD, September 2017]

Near-frontal view of a Whistling Kite issuing its call (photo courtesy of J. Greaves)
[Boolardy Station, Murchison, WA, August 2016]

Near-lateral view of a Whistling Kite
[Yarrie Lake, near Wee Waa, NSW, August 2012]

Near-lateral view of a Whistling Kite (photo courtesy of P. Brown)
[Keep River NP, NT, November 2018]

Lateral view of a Whistling Kite (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Stanage Bay, QLD, July 2021]

Lateral/ventral view of a Whistling Kite
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, September 2013]

Near-dorsal view of a Whistling Kite (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Buffalo Creek, Darwin, NT, July 2020]

Dorsal view of a Whistling Kite looking backwards
[Lee Point, Darwin, NT, August 2014]

Dorsal view of a Whistling Kite from below (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Bowra Station, near Cunnamulla, QLD, August 2018]

Whistling Kite caught at a very private moment; this habit is the reason why one can sometimes see scattered white patches around the aeries of large raptors (photo courtesy of J. Greaves)
[Boolardy Station, Murchison, WA, August 2016]

Near-frontal/ventral view of a Whistling Kite in flight
[Darwin, NT, August 2014]

Close-up lateral view of a Whistling Kite in flight
[Pilliga Lagoon, NSW, February 2019]

Near-dorsal/ventral view of a Whistling Kite in flight
[O'Brien's Creek, Narrabri Lake, NSW, August 2010]

Ventral view of a soaring Whistling Kite
[O'Brien's Creek, Narrabri Lake, NSW, August 2010]

Direct ventral comparison between a Whistling Kite, lower right, and a Black Kite; the latter is flying at a somewhat lower altitude and therefore only appears to be larger - both were waiting for prey, probably locusts, to drop dead in a cotton field that had just been sprayed by a crop duster plane
[Near Bugilbone, NSW, February 2018]

IMMATURE/JUVENILE

Close-up frontal view of a moulting Whistling Kite, possibly a young bird moulting into adult plumage
[Yarrie Lake, near Wee Waa, NSW, December 2023]

Frontal view of a juvenile Whistling Kite waiting for the disturbance to disappear before going back to feed on road kill
[Barambah Dam, near Kingaroy, QLD, June 2017]

Frontal view of a juvenile Whistling Kite with its tail fanned
[Barambah Dam, near Kingaroy, QLD, June 2017]

Frontal view of a juvenile Whistling Kite preening after having a bath (photo courtesy of R. Druce)

Near-lateral view of a juvenile Whistling Kite
[O'Brien's Creek, Narrabri Lake, NSW, November 2010]

Near-lateral view of a juvenile Whistling Kite
[O'Brien's Creek, Narrabri Lake, NSW, November 2010]

Lateral view of a juvenile Whistling Kite (photo courtesy of P. Brown)
[Fogg Dam CR, NT, May 2018]

Lateral view of a juvenile Whistling Kite issuing its call (photo courtesy of P. Brown)
[Fogg Dam CR, NT, May 2018]

Lateral view of a juvenile Whistling Kite (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Gatton, QLD, April 2018]

Near-dorsal view of a juvenile Whistling Kite (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Musgrave Roadhouse, Cape York peninsula, QLD, August 2019]

Whistling Kite chick near fledging age (photo courtesy of J. Greaves)
[Boolardy Station, Murchison, WA, July 2015]

Frontal view of a juvenile Whistling Kite launching itself into the air (photo courtesy of R. Plumtree)
[Ensay, East Gippsland, VIC, January 2019]

Frontal view of a juvenile Whistling Kite in flight (photo courtesy of P. Brown)
[Fogg Dam CR, NT, May 2018]

Frontal view of a juvenile Whistling Kite in flight (photo courtesy of P. Brown)
[Fogg Dam CR, NT, May 2018]

Near-lateral view of a juvenile Whistling Kite in flight (photo courtesy of R. Plumtree)
[Ensay, East Gippsland, VIC, January 2019]

Near-lateral view of a juvenile Whistling Kite in flight (photo courtesy of R. Plumtree)
[Ensay, East Gippsland, VIC, January 2019]

Near-dorsal/ventral view of a juvenile Whistling Kite in flight (photo courtesy of P. Brown)
[Fogg Dam CR, NT, May 2018]

Dorsal/ventral view of a juvenile Whistling Kite in flight
[Yarrie Lake, near Wee Waa, NSW, September 2021] NT, May 2018]

Breeding information

Breeding season: Jul - Nov Eggs: 1 - 3 Incubation period: 40 days Fledging age: ca. 56 days

The breeding season depends significantly on geographical latitude. In the tropical north Whistling Kites breed Feb - Sep. Given the right conditions, Whistling Kites can thus breed any time of the year.

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.

There is a separate page describing a pair of Whistling Kites breeding in autumn/winter.

Nest

"bungobittah", "lar", "malunna", "jindi" [bundjalung] = nest [Aboriginal]

Type: Basket Material: Sticks, lined with fresh leaves Height above ground: 10 - 30 m

Specializing in hunting near water, Whistling Kites usually also nest in trees near or in water, preferably in tall River Red Gums.

Additional information

A. Morris reports that some bird species, most notably Diamond Firetails, Zebra Finches and Red-browed Finches, like to take advantage of the protection offered by nesting under a Whistling Kite nest. There is now a separate page about various bird species nesting under the umbrella of a stronger, protective species.

Whistling Kite launching itself from its nest with a chick inside (photo courtesy of P. Brown)
[Manton Dam, near Darwin, NT, September 2019]

Whistling Kite on its nest
[O'Brien's Creek, Narrabri Lake, NSW, July 2010]

Here the nesting Whistling Kite's partner bringing new material
[O'Brien's Creek, Narrabri Lake, NSW, July 2010]

Overview of a near-fledging age Whistling Kite nestling in its nest (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Lake Coolmundra, QLD, May 2018]

Frontal view of a near-fledging age Whistling Kite nestling (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Lake Coolmundra, QLD, May 2018]

Fluffy white Whistling Kite chick on its nest, high up in a River Red Gum; this pair of Whistling Kites must have bred right through the coldest part of winter, having a chick of this size already in mid-July
[O'Brien's Creek, Narrabri Lake, NSW, July 2014]

One of the parent Whistling Kites patrolling above their nest
[O'Brien's Creek, Narrabri Lake, NSW, July 2014]

Whistling Kite nest with a chick near fledging age; note how Whistling Kites, being top of the food chain, do not need to hide their nests (photo courtesy of C. Hayne)
[Near Moree, NSW, November 2012]

This photo shows that the Whistling Kite nest shown above is high up in a dead tree in a large farm dam
(photo courtesy of C. Hayne)
[Near Moree, NSW, September 2013]

In favourable conditions Whistling Kites can nest in autumn and have their offspring fledge in the middle of winter
[Yarrie Lake, near Wee Waa, NSW, April 2022]

Whistling Kite on its nest with a chick near fledging age (photo courtesy of J. Greaves)
[Boolardy Station, Murchison, WA, July 2015]

Massive Whistling Kite nest (photo courtesy of M. Mearns)
[Coongie Lakes, Innamincka NP, SA, July 2009]

Whistling Kite feeding its two chicks (photo courtesy of M. Windeyer)
[Tiger Bay, Warren, NSW, July 2015]

Whistling Kite on its nest overlooking a wetland (the same nest as shown above, a year later, seen from a different angle)
[Tiger Bay, Warren, NSW, October 2016]

Whistling Kites, and other members of the hawk family, are known to line their nests with aromatic leaves; the Weeping Myall, Acacia pendula, is known for the strong aromatic smell of its leaves and this bird may be after leaves for its nest
[Between Burren Junction and Pilliga, NSW, May 2022]

Whistling Kites, and other members of the hawk family, are known to line their nests with aromatic leaves; the Weeping Myall, Acacia pendula, is known for the strong aromatic smell of its leaves and this bird may be after leaves for its nest
[Between Burren Junction and Pilliga, NSW, May 2022]

Eggs

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

Size: 55 x 43 mm Colour: Light red-brown, with darker red-brown speckles Shape: Tapered oval

Behaviour

Social behaviour: Territorial Mobility: Nomadic/dispersive Elementary unit: Solitary/pair

Whistling Kites are the clean-up brigade in many places. In 2005 we observed a family of four hunting - two soaring high with an overview, two coming in low above the trees - they found the carcass of a still-born lamb, on which they then fed.

Narrabri Lake hosts a lot of waterbirds, such as Egrets, Ibises and Spoonbills and various types of Cormorants and water hens. The area is also the territory of a pair of Whistling Kites.

Male Whistling Kites, like the males of other species where the female takes on (most of) the incubating duties, must show their mettle prior to mating. We have observed a male bringing its mate, who was waiting at the aerie, a fish, in a type of bonding ritual.

Whistling Kite, presumably a female, at its aerie; this bird was heard calling
[Yarrie Lake, near Wee Waa, NSW, March 2024]

Shortly after, a second Whistling Kite, presumably the male, was seen carrying a fish
[Yarrie Lake, near Wee Waa, NSW, March 2024]

The (presumed) male Whistling Kite carried its fish to the aerie, depositing it in the nest, with the female still sitting on its perch; both were then heard calling
[Yarrie Lake, near Wee Waa, NSW, March 2024]

A Whistling Kite was seen by us in October 2008 having a go at a Sulphur-crested Cockatoo.

Food, Diet

Adults: Small animals, carrion Dependents: As adults Water intake: None

All raptors are carnivores. Whistling Kites feed on small mammals and also birds (e.g. the young of any kind of waterhen). They also take large insects and they scavenge on carrion and are often found around rubbish tips. We have also seen them catching fish.

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.

Juvenile Whistling Kite catching a fish
[Yarrie Lake, near Wee Waa, NSW, January 2024]

Juvenile Whistling Kite carrying its prey, a fish
[Yarrie Lake, near Wee Waa, NSW, January 2024]

Does that look like a self-satisfied smile?
[Yarrie Lake, near Wee Waa, NSW, January 2024]

Adult Whistling Kite, right, with its prey, a fish for its dependent fledged young, which takes an interest in how the prey is being skinned
[Yarrie Lake, near Wee Waa, NSW, July 2023]

Whistling Kite with its prey, a Flying Fox (photo courtesy of P. Brown)
[Charles Darwin University, Darwin, NT, May 2020]

Whistling Kite feeding on the carcass of a Magpie Goose (photo courtesy of P. Brown)
[McMinns Lagoon, near Humpty Doo, NT, November 2020]

Frontal view of a Whistling Kite that is still bloody from its last meal (photo courtesy of M. Mearns)
[Near Betoota, SA, June 2015]

Juvenile Whistling Kite with some dead waterfowl (photo courtesy of P. Brown)
[McMinns Lagoon, near Darwin, NT, September 2018]

Whistling Kites have a preference for aquatic habitats, mostly around freshwater lakes; one of their staple diets are (mostly juvenile and inexperienced) waterhens
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, July 2013]

Whistling Kite after a successful hunt, carrying away a chick
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, November 2010]

Two Australian Ravens having a good time at the "Road Kill Restaurant"... (photo courtesy of R. Druce)
[Maules Creek, NSW, June 2013]

... but then a Whistling Kite appeared and spoiled all the fun (photo courtesy of R. Druce)
[Maules Creek, NSW, June 2013]

Whistling Kite bringing food for its chick (photo courtesy of J. Greaves)
[Boolardy Station, Murchison, WA, July 2015]

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.

whskite_20140817.m4a (Top End, NT) Contact call © MD
whskite_20140817_2.m4a (Top End, NT) Contact calls (Q&A) © MD
whskite_20231229.m4a (NW NSW) Contact calls (+ scared Galah) © MD
whskite_pb_20180619.m4a (Top End, NT) (Abbreviated) contact call © PB

More Whistling Kite sound recordings are available at xeno-canto.org .

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.

Would you like to contribute photos or sound recordings to this site?
If interested, please CLICK HERE. Credits to contributors are given HERE.