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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

Full-frontal view of an adult Whistling Kite
[Yarrie Lake, near Wee Waa, NSW, September 2013]

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

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

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

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

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

Dorsal view of a Whistling Kite
[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 view of a Whistling Kite in flight
[Darwin, NT, August 2014]

Approaching Whistling Kite seen from almost straight underneath
[O'Brien's Creek, Narrabri Lake, NSW, July 2010]

Soaring Whistling Kite
[O'Brien's Creek, Narrabri Lake, NSW, May 2012]

Soaring Whistling Kite
[O'Brien's Creek, Narrabri Lake, NSW, August 2010]

Whistling Kite in flight
[O'Brien's Creek, Narrabri Lake, NSW, August 2010]

Whistling Kite trying to gain height with powerful wing beats
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, September 2008]

Whistling Kite in flight seen from almost behind
[Near Brewarrina, NSW, September 2017]

Whistling Kite in flight seen from behind
[O'Brien's Creek, Narrabri Lake, NSW, July 2010]

Whistling Kite under attack from a White-breasted Woodswallow
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, November 2012]

Direct 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

Frontal view of a moulting Whistling Kite, possibly a young bird moulting into adult plumage (photo courtesy of P. Brown)
[Darwin, NT, January 2018]

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]

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]

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]

Ventral 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
[O'Brien's Creek, Narrabri Lake, NSW, November 2010]

The same Whistling Kite as above, the same perch on the same day, but with the sunlight slanting at a different angle
[O'Brien's Creek, Narrabri Lake, NSW, November 2010]

Juvenile Whistling Kite preening after having a bath (photo courtesy of R. Druce)

Lateral view of a juvenile Whistling Kite waiting to be fed
[O'Brien's Creek, Narrabri Lake, NSW, November 2010]

Here the young Whistling Kite can be seen on a low branch, at a more favourable angle
[O'Brien's Creek, Narrabri Lake, NSW, November 2010]

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

Tail feathers take a while to grow to full length; this Whistling Kite's outline, as seen from below, already characterizes it as an immature bird

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

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.

Nest

"bungobittah", "malunna" = 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 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.

Pair of Whistling Kites working on a new nest
[Yarrie Lake, near Wee Waa, NSW, August 2012]

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]

Dorsal 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]

The same Whistling Kite nest as above, re-used a year later (photo courtesy of C. Hayne)
[Near Moree, NSW, September 2013]

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]

Whistling Kite chick near fledging age
[Yarrie Lake, near Wee Waa, NSW, December 2013]

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

Whistling Kite 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]

Eggs

"boyanga", "booyanga", "derinya", "dirandil", "koomura", "ngampu", "nooluk", "pateena" = 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.

Whistling Kite in the air space above its hunting territory, in this case a lake
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, July 2014]

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 scavenge on carrion and are often found around rubbish tips.

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.

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 Kite 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]

Another Whistling Kite with the day's catch in its talons
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, July 2010]

Whistling Kite after a successful hunt, this time 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_3.mp3 (Top End, NT) Contact call © MD
whskite_20140817.m4a (Top End, NT) Contact call © MD
whskite_20140817_2.mp3 (Top End, NT) Contact calls © MD
whskite_pb_20180619.m4a (Top End, NT) (Abbreviated) contact call © PB

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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