Black Shouldered Kite

Quick Facts

Length: 36 cm
Height: -
Weight: 291 grams
Colour: Pale grey with white head. Black wing tips.
Habitat: Treed grasslands, farms, vacant waste lands of urban/coastal areas
Food: Rodents such as field mice, insects in particular grasshoppers.
Predators: -
Status: Secure
Black Shouldered Kite
Black Shouldered Kite

Black-shouldered Kites are medium to small birds of prey (raptors) and are mostly pale grey above with a pure white head, body and tail and black shoulders. The wings are white underneath with black wing tips and the wing span is 80 cm to 100 cm. Females are larger than the males. The red eye is marked by a black comma that extends behind it. The nostrils are yellow and the legs and feet are also yellow. The Black-shouldered Kite has a direct flight with quick shallow wing beats and glides on upswept wings (like a seagull). It is often seen hovering near roadsides and in open paddocks with feet dangling.

The Black-shouldered Kite is very similar to the related Letter-winged Kite, but has a distinctive black comma shape above and behind the eye and lacks the black underwing 'w' or 'm' pattern, and has a white rather than grey crown. The Letter-winged Kite also has a slower, deeper wing beat when flying.

The Black-shouldered Kite is found across mainland Australia in treed grasslands and on farms, along roads and in vacant waste lands of urban and coastal areas.

The Black shouldered kite is Nomadic but populations may irrupt in response to mouse plagues in particular areas.

The Black-shouldered Kite feeds mainly on rodents, particularly the introduced House Mouse, often following mouse plagues through agricultural areas. The Black shouldered kites will also eat insects such as grasshoppers. It prefers to hunt during the day, particularly early morning and late afternoon, often hovering with its wings held upright in a V-shape, before dropping down and grabbing prey with its talons.
Prey items are eaten while flying or on a perch which can be a high tree or an artificial structure such as a powerpole.

The Black-shouldered Kite forms monogamous (mate for life) pairs. During courtship, the male will feed the female in mid air. She will flip upside down and take food with her feet from his, while both birds are flying. Both sexes build the nest which is a large untidy shallow cup of sticks, on high tree or on an artificial structure such as a bridge or power pole. The young birds can feed themselves seven days after fledging and leave their parents within a month.

The Black-shouldered Kite has expanded its range since European arrival, benefitting from land-clearing and irrigation practices that create suitable habitat and numbers often increase in response to mouse plagues around crops and granaries. However, some populations of the Black shouldered kite may be affected in areas with high sheep and rabbit numbers, as these animals can reduce suitable habitat for prey items by compacting the soil and reducing feed.

Author: Rosalyn Plunkett
Last Updated: Wednesday 8th January, 2014
BirdLife Australia -


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