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Pearl Kite
Gampsonyx swainsonii

Status: Lower risk

Population Trend: Increasing.

Other Names: Northern Pearl Kite (leonae), Swainson's Pearl Kite (swainsonii), Yellow-faced Kite.

Gampsonyx swainsonii
click to enlarge
Distribution: Neotropical. EL SALVADOR (one record) and HONDURAS (one record) south through the Pacific slopes of NICARAGUA and COSTA RICA to western PANAMA (Chiriqui, Bocas del Toro), but still absent from cenral PANAMA; the range continues from eastern PANAMA (Darien) south in lowlands west of the Andes to northwestern PERU and east of the Andes to southern BOLIVIA, northern ARGENTINA, PARAGUAY, and southern BRAZIL. more....

Subspecies: 3 races. G. s. leonae: Western NICARAGUA south through COSTA RICA and PANAMA to northern COLOMBIA, east through VENEZUELA to the GUIANAS and south to the Amazon River; TRINIDAD; G. s. magnus: Western COLOMBIA south through ECUADOR to northwestern PERU; G. s. swainsonii: BRAZIL south of the Amazon River to eastern ECUADOR, eastern PERU, eastern BOLIVIA, PARAGUAY, and northern ARGENTINA. more....

Taxonomy: Placed in the Falconidae until fairly recently (Peters 1931, Pinto 1938, Hellmayr and Conover 1949, Meyer de Schauensee 1964), but Friedmann (1950), Plótnik (1956), Stresemann (1959), and Brodkorb (1960) showed that this species is an accipitrid most closely related to Elanus, based on several morphological characters and its molt schedule. On the basis of its syringeal morphology, Griffiths (1994) did not think it was a sister taxon to Elanus, but a later molecular study of Griffiths et al. (2007) did show such a relationship and also that these kite genera are basal to all other accipitrids.

Movements: Non-migratory, but juveniles disperse from breeding areas (Bildstein 2006). This species must be somewhat nomadic to expand its range into newly opened areas so quickly. Regarded as an austral migrant in Formosa Province, Argentina, based on the seasonal pattern of its occurrence at Reserva El Bagual (Di Giacomo 2005).

Habitat and Habits: Occurs in lowlands in open woodlands, savannas, arid scrub, agricultural areas, and even suburbs, perching conspicuously on utility lines, power poles, and tops of trees like the American Kestrel. Also may soar very high above open country. In Trinidad, this species is found at savanna edges bordering deciduous woodland and usually in the vicinity of coconut palms (ffrench 1991), but Murphy (2004) found it increasingly in urban habitats. Usually found singly. more....

Food and Feeding Behavior: Feeds mostly on lizards, frogs, insects, and other small prey, rarely birds. Hunts from a high perch, or from falcon-like flight.  May hover over prey, kestrel-style, before stooping. more....

Breeding: The nest is a small, shallow platform made of fine twigs and placed high in a tree. Both adults build the nest, which requires constant repair, and continue to bring new twigs even after the young are quite large. In a minority of instances, the same nest is used in successive years (ffrench 1982). The clutch size is 1-4 eggs, which are white with irregular brownish and grayish-violet markings. Most of the incubation is by the female, with only short periods of relief by the male during the daytime. In Trinidad, the incubation period at four nests was 34-35 days, and the nestling period was about 5 weeks (ffrench 1982), but at an Argentine nest, the incubation period was only 28 and 30 days, and the nestling period was between 33-35 days (Di Giacomo 2005). The male brings food for the female and the young, but only the female feeds the young (ffrench op cit.). more....

Conservation: Widely distributed and still expanding into newly available open habitats in many areas, especially in Central America. One of relatively few Neotropical diurnal raptors to profit from deforestation. Categorized as a species of "Least Concern" by BirdLife International. more....

Important References: 
Bierregaard, R.O. 1994. Pearl Kite. P. 113 in del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott,
  and J. Sargatal (eds). Handbook of birds of the world. Vol. 2. New World
  vultures to guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.
Brodkorb, P. 1960. The skeleton and systematic position of Gampsonyx Auk
Ferguson-Lees, J., and D.A. Christie. 2001. Raptors of the world. Houghton
  Mifflin, Boston, MA.
ffrench, R.P. 1982. The breeding of the Pearl Kite in Trinidad. Living
  Bird 19:121-131.
Martínez, C. 1998. [Breeding record of the Pearl Kite, Gampsonyx
(Aves: Accipitridae) in São Luís do Maranhão.] Ararajuba
  6:58-59. (In Portuguese with English summary)
Plótnik, R. 1956. [Affinities between the genera Elanoides and Gampsonyx.]
  Revista de Investigaciones Agricultura 103:313-315. (In Spanish)
Stresemann, V. 1959. The wing molt and systematic position of the genus
  Gampsonyx. Auk 76:360-361.

Sites of Interest:
Pearl Kite photos.
Aves de Rapina do Brasil
Species account, with emphasis on Brazil.

Baquero Palma, Fernando Hernandez

Last modified: 4/5/2011

Recommended Citation: Global Raptor Information Network. 2022. Species account: Pearl Kite Gampsonyx swainsonii. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 27 Jan. 2022

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