Black-shouldered Kite

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Common Name: Black-shouldered Kite
Scientific Name: Elanus axillaris

Size: 13.8-15 inches (35-38 cm); Wingspan: 31.5-37.4 inches (80-95 cm)

Habitat: Australia; while reported from almost all parts of Australia, they are most common in the relatively fertile south-east and south-west corners of the mainland, and in south-east Queensland. They are rare in the deep desert and appear to be only accidental visitors to northern Tasmania and the Torres Strait islands. They are sedentary, or nomadic following food sources. Their numbers fluctuate during drought and floods, and can be irruptive in response to sudden increases in mouse populations.

They prefer open areas with scattered clumps of trees, including tree-lined watercourses through open country. In urban environments, they are found on the edge of towns, in open grassy areas, dumps or other areas, where mice may occur. They also hunt over coastal dunes, drier marshland and farmlands.

Status: Least Concern. Global population: 4,000,000 adult individuals. Major threats include wetland desiccation and drainage; persecution by shooting; pollution, especially from excessive pesticide use in and around wetlands (although widespread bans have reduced this threat somewhat), and poisoning by heavy metals, notably the consumption of lead-shot through feeding on contaminated carrion. The species is also highly vulnerable to the effects of potential wind energy development.

Diet: Almost exclusively mice also they will take other suitably sized creatures when available, such as grasshoppers, rats, small reptiles, birds, and even (very rarely) rabbits.

Black-shouldered kites usually hunt singly or in pairs, though when food is plentiful, like during a mouse plague, they occur in small family groups and can be loosely gregarious, with up to seventy birds reported feeding together.

Nesting: Females are noticeably larger and up to 15% heavier than males. Adults are a very pale grey with a white head and white underparts. The leading edge of the inner wing is black. When perched, this gives them their prominent black "shoulders", hence their common name. They have a squared tail and a streamlined aerodynamic body. Their eyes are red, with a black eyebrow that extends behind the eyes. The bill is black, short with a sharp, hooked tip to the upper mandible. Their nostrils and cere are bright yellow. The legs and feet are also yellow.

Aerial courtship displays involve single and mutual high circling flight, and the male may fly around slowly with stiff exaggerated flaps, commonly known as “butterfly-flight”. Courting males dive at the female, feeding her in mid-flight. The female grabs food from the male's talons with hers while flipping upside-down. They may lock talons and tumble downwards in a ritualized version of grappling, but release just before landing. All courtship displays are accompanied by constant calling by the pair.

Black-shouldered kites form monogamous pairs. The breeding season is usually August to January, but is responsive to mice populations. Both sexes are involved in building the nest. The nest is a large untidy shallow cup of sticks, lined with green leaves and felted fur. It is usually located in the foliage near the top of trees.

Females perform most of the care of eggs and nestlings, though males take a minor share of incubation and brooding. The clutch consists of 3-4 dull white eggs of a tapered oval shape. Red-brown blotches are often heavier around the larger end of the egg. The female incubates the eggs for 30 days. The nestling period lasts around 36 days, and the post-fledging period at least 36 days with parental feeding for at least 22 days.

Cool Facts: Black-shouldered kites hunt by quartering their grasslands while searching for small creatures. This can be from a perch, but more typically they will hover, 10 to 12 m (30-40 ft) above a particular spot, with their body hanging almost vertically and their head into the wind. They will peer down intently, sometimes for only a few seconds, often for a minute or more, then glide swiftly to a new vantage point and hover again.

When a mouse or other prey is spotted, the kite drops silently onto it, feet-first with wings raised high; sometimes in one long drop to ground level, more often in two or more stages, with hovering pauses at intermediate heights. Prey is seized in the talons and about 75% of attacks are successful. Prey can either be eaten in flight or carried back to a perch. Birds will have a favored feeding perch, beneath which piles of pellets or castings accumulate

When hunting from a perch, a dead tree is the preferred platform. The black-shouldered kite grips a vertical branch with a foot on either side, each one above the other and turned inwards, which enables them to maintain a secure footing on relatively small branches.

This 3D Model is found in Songbird ReMix Birds of Prey Volume II: Hawks of the Old World

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