White-tailed Kite photo by Doug HerrWhite-tailed Kite
Elanus leucurus 

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photograph by Douglas Herr 

links: Buteo.com / white-tailed kite

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You'll see two kites hunting over the alkali meadow. We have been fortunate to have these lovely raptors for several years now. They are often perched high a top the dead sycamore just west of the corral, or in the plum orchard. Watch them hunt and you'll know how they got their name!


A small raptor (30-35 cm) which lives in open country of  California, the white-tailed kite lives in dry grass savannas, meadows and cultivated land with trees, up to 9000 feet above sea level. 

The upper parts are gray, with black shoulders and primaries; under parts and the short square tail are mainly white. The legs are yellow, the beak is black and itseyes crimson . Hunting live prey from exposed perches, (utility poles ,tall trees), it often checks several times before dropping on its prey - small rodents, reptiles and large insects. It flies slowly and hovers gracefully like a kestrel, hence the name "kite".

In spring pairs build a small twig nest, 5-60 feet high ,often in an isolated tree, and may use it for several seasons. Three to five cream or pale buff eggs, with dark brown, purple and gray markings are incubated by the female for 25-28 days; the male brings food. When the young are large enough to be left the female also hunts. Fully covered with down and eyes open hatchlings take small pieces of meat from the mother's bill. After 30-40 days the young begin to tear up prey for themselves and begin to fly.

After breeding, kites live in communal roosts in trees, up to 120 birds, and hunt from there, year after year for several years. The biggest threat to the white-tailed kite, as most birds-of-prey, are humans, through direct persecution, pesticide use and most importantly, the destruction of its habitat.

This account was composed and prepared by Susana V. González, a biology minor at CSUB, on May 1, 1996.

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