Whistling Kite Click to enlarge image
Whistling Kite, Haliastur sphenurus Image: SG Lane
© SG Lane

Fast Facts

  • IUCN Conservation Status
  • Classification
  • Size Range
    Body length: 51 to 59 cm; Wingspan: 120 to 146 cm

What do Whistling Kites look like?


The Whistling Kite is a medium-sized raptor (bird of prey). It has a slim body and narrow head, and rounded tail. The bird is described as looking "scruffy", and the overall plumage is sandy-brown with pale streaks. The bill is dark grey, the iris is brown and feet and legs are cream coloured. The wings are long and have dark, defined "finger tips" at the outer edges, and together with the pale window on the underside of the wing, an "M" shape can be seen. Adult male and female birds are similar in appearance, however the female is larger than the male. Juvenile birds are similar to the adult birds however they are more streaked on the head and underbody. They are often seen near water or around farms, soaring in a lazy circling flight pattern.

Where do Whistling Kites live?


The Whistling Kite is found in open woodland, farmland and wetlands. Prefers tall trees for nesting.


The Whistling Kite is common and widespread over mainland Australia. Uncommon in Tasmania. Also found in New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and New Caledonia.

What do Whistling Kites eat and how do they communicate?

Feeding and diet

Whistling Kites are opportunistic hunters, and they soar above the ground, trees and water to search for prey. During the non-breeding season it mainly feeds on carrion (dead animals) and during the breeding seasons prefers small live animals such as mammals, birds, fish and insects.


The distinctive whistling call is used while in flight and also at the nest, and is described as a loud descending whistle: 'teee-ti-ti'.

What are Whistling Kites breeding behaviours?

Breeding Behaviour/s

The Whistling Kite is thought to be monogamous. Both sexes contribute to building the nest, which is a bulky platform of sticks. The nest is reused each breeding season and can become quite large as more material is added each year. Both parents incubate the eggs (usually 2 eggs are laid) and feed the chicks. Fledgelings will return to the nest for feeding by the parents for up to 8 weeks once they have taken their first flight.

Breeding Season: Mainly July to December in Australia.


Partially migratory in eastern and south-eastern Australia. Mostly resident in northern and western Australia.

Economic Impacts

Modification of woodland forests impact on breeding owing to loss of tall trees. Farmland and agriculture have provided food resources for kites, supplying carrion and live prey such as insects and vertebrates (e.g. grasshoppers, rats). Species is also victim of airplane strikes.