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Gray-headed Kite
Leptodon cayanensis

Status: Lower risk

Population Trend: Declining.

Other Names: Brazilian Kite, Cayenne Kite, Cymindis cayennensis, Grey-headed Kite, Odontriorchis palliatus.

Leptodon cayanensis
click to enlarge
Distribution: Neotropical. Locally from eastern MEXICO (Tamaulipas) south through tropical lowlands of Central America west of the Andes to western ECUADOR and east of the Andes through Venezuela and the Guianas through the Amazon Basin to BOLIVIA (Beni, Santa Cruz), northeastern ARGENTINA and PARAGUAY; TRINIDAD. more....

Subspecies: Monotypic.

Taxonomy: The name Odontriorchis palliatus was formerly used for this species (e.g., Pinto 1938). The very rare White-collared Kite, L. forbesi, was formerly thought to represent an aberrant plumage of L. cayanensis, but was shown to be a completely separate species by Teixiera et al. (1987). Friedmann (1950) and Brown and Amadon (1968) suggested that this genus is most closely related to the Old World genera Aviceda and Pernis. Recent molecular studies of Lerner and Mindell (2005), based on the molecular sequence from two mitochondrial genes and one nuclear intron, also indicated that Chondrohierax uncinatus and Leptodon cayanensis are sister species and are probably close to Aviceda. In another molecular study, Griffiths et al. (2007) found that Leptodon and Elanoides are sister taxa and that they are basal to all other Accipitridae, except for Elanus and Gampsonyx.

Movements: Probably non-migratory in much of its extensive range (Short 1975, Chesser 1994), but there is some evidence that it is a partial austral migrant in at least Formosa and Chaco Provinces and perhaps in other parts of Argentina (Contreras et al. 1990, Di Giacomo 2005).

Habitat and Habits: Occurs in lowlands, less commonly to middle elevations, mostly in mature forest canopy and along edges, but also on high perches in swampy forest, late second-growth, dry forest, or semi-open areas, often in the vicinity of water. Moves slowly, occasionally soaring in early to mid-morning low over the canopy., alternately flapping and gliding, or high, when en route to another foraging area. Slud (1964) mentioned that soaring birds sometimes raise their wings to form a V and vibrate them rapidly, presumably part of a courtship display. These kites typically remain perched unobtrusively in the canopy, rarely on an exposed limb, except in early morning or evenings, and they are generally difficult to detect. Usually found singly, or occasionally in pairs. Several observers have commented on the sluggish, unwary nature of this species, and it can sometimes be approached closely. more....

Food and Feeding Behavior: Reported to feed on small snakes, frogs, lizards, eggs and nestlings of small birds, mollusks, and insects, especially wasps, hornets, and ants, all procured from the canopy (Haverschmidt 1962, Carvalho Filho et al. 2005). Thorstrom (1997) observed a radio-tagged bird flying from perch to perch in and below the canopy and scanning its surroundings and the ground below by slowly moving its head around, then flying to another perch after a minute or two, and again searching for prey. Haverschmidt (1962) saw birds darting from their perch and pursuing an insect, sideslipping with great speed and impetus. Ferrari (1990) reported a foraging association between this species and marmosets in southeastern Brazil. more....

Breeding: Most information on the breeding of this kite is from the studies by Thorstrom (1997) in Guatemala and Carvalho Filho et al. (2005) in Brazil. The nest is a shallow cup of sticks placed high in a fork near the end of a small-diameter branch near the very top of a tree. Both Thorstrom (in press) and Carvalho Filho et al. (op cit.) reported nests in Guatemala and Brazil, respectively, located near occupied Accipiter nests. Clutch size is 1-2 eggs, which are white with brown blotches, mostly on the larger end. Egg size averages 53.1 x 41.5 mm (n = 5). Thorstrom (op cit.) and Carvalho Filho et al. (op cit.) observed incubation by both adults, and the latter authors saw both adults delivering food to chicks. There were no prey deliveries to the nest during incubation, so the non-incubating bird apparently forages and feeds away from the nest (Thorstrom op cit.). Siblicide may be characteristic of this species, judging from the observation of Carvalho Filho et. al. (op cit.), who found chicks of two different sizes in one nest and only the larger one present on a subsequent visit. more....

Conservation: Generally uncommon, but not necessarily rare, throughout most of its extensive range. More abundant in the Amazonian portion of its range than in Middle America or west of the Andes. Populations are probably declining in some areas as a result of deforestation. Categorized as a species of Least Concern by BirdLife International. more....

Important References: 
Bierregaard, R.O. 1994. Grey-headed Kite. P. 108 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.
Carvalho Filho, E.P.M., G.D. Mendes de Carvalho Filho, and C.E.A.
2005. Observations of nesting Gray-headed Kite Leptodon
in southeastern Brazil. Journal of Raptor Research 39:89-92.
Dénes,F.V. 2009. [Taxonomy and distribution of kites of the genus Leptodon
  Sundevall, 1836 (Aves: Accipitridae)]. M.Sc. thesis, Universidade de São
  Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil. (In Portuguese with English summary)
Ferguson-Lees, J., and D.A. Christie. 2001. Raptors of the world. Houghton
  Mifflin, Boston, MA.
Ferrari, S.F. 1990. A foraging association between two kite species
  (Ictinia plumbea and Leptodon cayanensis) and Buffy-headed Marmosets
  (Callithris flaviceps) in southeastern Brazil. Condor 92:781-783.
Foster, M.S. 1971. Plumage and behavior of a juvenile Gray-headed Kite.
  Auk 88:163-166.
Haverschmidt, F. 1962. Notes on the feeding habits and food of some hawks
  of Surinam. Condor 64:154-158.
Lerner, H.R.L., M.C. Klaver, and D.P. Mindell. 2008. Molecular
  phylogenetics of the buteonine birds of prey (Accipitridae). Auk
Lerner, H.R., and D.P. Mindell. 2005. Phylogeny of eagles, Old World
  vultures, and other Accipitridae based on nuclear and mitochondrial DNA.
  Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 37:327-346.
Thorstrom, R. 1997. A description of nests and behavior of the Gray-headed
  Kite. Wilson Bulletin 109:173-177.
Thorstrom, R.K. 2012. Gray-headed Kite. Pp. 39-47 in D.F. Whitacre (ed.),
  Neotropical birds of prey: biology and ecology of a forest raptor community.
  Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY.
Wolfe, L.R. 1964. Eggs of the Falconiformes: further part. Oologists'
  Record 38:50-57.

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

Cabanne, Gustavo Sebastian
Carvalho Filho, Eduardo Pio Mendes
Thorstrom, Russell

Last modified: 7/27/2012

Recommended Citation: Global Raptor Information Network. 2021. Species account: Gray-headed Kite Leptodon cayanensis. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 9 Dec. 2021

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