Black-shouldered Kites are medium to small raptors (birds of prey), and are gull-like in appearance. They are small mammal specialists, and they almost exclusively hunt the introduced House Mouse.
Black-shouldered Kites 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 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 interspersed with glides on upswept wings (like a seagull), and is often seen hovering, with feet dangling.
The Black-shouldered Kite is found in treed grasslands and on farms, along roads, and in vacant waste lands of urban and coastal areas.
The Black-shouldered Kite is found across mainland Australia.
Nomadic; populations may irrupt in response to mouse plagues in particular areas
Feeding and diet
The Black-shouldered Kite feeds mainly on rodents, particularly the introduced House Mouse, Mus musculus, often following mouse plagues in agricultural areas. Also will 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, for example, a powerpole.
Harsh wheezing 'scaarrp'; also clear 'chee' calls in flight and while hovering.
The Black-shouldered Kite forms monogamous 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 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.
- Breeding season: July to December.
- Clutch size: Two to five
- Incubation: 34 days
- Time in nest: 38 days
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 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). The Black-shouldered Kite sometimes uses artificial structures such as bridges and poles for nesting.
- Marchant, S. and Higgins, P.J. (eds) 1993. Handbook of Australian New Zealand And Antartic Birds Vol. 2: (Raptors To Lapwings). Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
- Pizzey, G. and Knight, F. 1997. Field Guide to the Birds of Australia. Angus and Robertson, Sydney.
- Simpson, K and Day, N. 1999. Field guide to the birds of Australia, 6th Edition.Penguin Books, Australia.