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Black-winged Kite
Elanus caeruleus

Status: Lower risk

Population Trend: Increasing.

Other Names: Black-shouldered Kite, Blue Kite, Common Black-shouldered Kite.

Elanus caeruleus
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Distribution: Afrotropical/Australasian/ Indomalayan/Palearctic. Southwestern Iberian Peninsula through most of Africa and southwestern Arabia, PAKISTAN and southern CHINA south through the Malay Peninsula, BORNEO, Indonesia, PHILIPPINES, SULAWESI, LESSER SUNDAS, and NEW GUINEA; the range is expanding northward in Europe and eastward in the Middle East. more....

Subspecies: 4 races. E. c. caeruleus: Southwestern Iberian Peninsula, most of Africa, and southwestern Arabia; E. c. hypoleucus: SUMATRA, JAVA, BORNEO, PHILIPPINES, SULAWESI, KALAO, and LESSER SUNDAS; E. c. vociferus: PAKISTAN to southern and eastern CHINA, Indochina, and Malay Peninsula; E. c. wahgiensis: NEW GUINEA. more....

Taxonomy: Forms a superspecies with E. leucurus and E. axillaris, and all three have sometimes been considered conspecific (Parkes 1958, Mees 1982). However, Clark and Banks (1992) provided convincing morphological evidence that they are separate species, and this view has been adopted by subsequent authors. Bed'Hom et al. (2003) found an atypical organization of the karyotype of the Black-shouldered Kite and noted that this provides support for the notion that the elanine kites might represent a distinct family within the Falconiformes, basal to the Accipitridae. Griffiths et al. (2007) showed that and Elanus are sister taxa. Their results, and those of Wink et al. (1998), Wink and Sauer-Gürth (2004), and Lerner and Mindell (2005), showed that the genus Elanus is basal to all other Accipitridae and that it might even form a separate family.

Movements: Partial migrant (Bildstein 2006). Very nomadic, often moving great distances in response to changes in rainfall regimes, which affect rodent populations or insect plagues. Mendelsohn (1987) found that fully 25% of a Transvaal population turned over each month, as birds came and went. A bird ringed as a nestling near Pretoria was reported 4.5 years later from Uganda, over 3,000 km to the north (Oatley et al. 1998). Observed crossing the Straits from Morocco to Spain (Thévenot et al. 2003). Probably somewhat nomadic in New Guinea (Coates 1985) and the Malay Peninsula (Wells 1999). more....

Habitat and Habits: Prefers open habitats, including moister grasslands, fynbos, agricultural areas, savannas, dry shrub thickets, clearings within forest, marshes, pastures, and edges or medians of roads. Avoids heavy forests and the driest deserts. Spends much time on an exposed perch, including dead trees, fenceposts, telephone poles, and powerlines, and also hovers. Somewhat crepuscular. Foraging birds are usually seen singly, sometimes in pairs, but hundreds often congregate at roosts, which may serve as information centers, allowing individuals to find new and better foraging areas (Mendelsohn 1988). more....

Food and Feeding Behavior: Feeds mainly on small rodents, but also takes some reptiles, insects, and occasionally birds. It may descend from perch to capture prey on the ground, hunt on the wing, descending upon prey after hovering, or pursue prey by quartering. Two time-budgeted adults followed in Malaysia spent 80% of their daylight hours perched (Kelai 1984). Still-hunting dominated throughout the days versus quartering in the evening. The latter hunting style was more successful, but required more energy (Kelai op cit.). This species follows grass fires to prey on invertebrates flushed by the flames (Coates and Bishop 1997). It is crepuscular to some extent, often hunting in the early twilight hours and before dawn. more....

Breeding: In some regions, it may breed in any season in response to prey availability, but in others, there is a well defined breeding season. Builds a flimsy stick nest with a fine lining of twigs, which is placed 3-20 m high in the fork of a small tree or palm. Clutch size is 3-5 eggs. All incubation is apparently by the female, which is provisioned by the male (Kelai 1984). This species is multi-brooded in many areas. more....

Conservation: Widespread and mostly common throughout its large range. Probably the most common bird of prey in southern Africa, where populations have increased in response to the conversion of large areas of woodland to agricultural uses (Mendelsohn 1997). Categorized globally as a species of "Least Concern" by BirdLife International. more....

Population Estimates: The European population was estimated at 1,100-2,000 breeding pairs (BirdLife International 2000) and later at 810-2,000 breeding pairs (BirdLife International 2004). Numbers of this species in Europe have probably increased subsequently. more....

Important References: 
Brown, L.H., E.K. Urban, and K. Newman. 1982. The birds of Africa. Vol. 1.
  Academic Press, London.
BirdLife International/European Bird Census Council. 2000. European bird
  populations: estimates and trends. BirdLife Conservation Series no. 10.
  BirdLife International,Cambridge, UK.
Ferguson-Lees, J., and D.A. Christie. 2001. Raptors of the world. Houghton
  Mifflin, Boston, MA.
Hustler, K., and W.R.J. Dean. 2005. Black-shouldered Kite Elanus
. Pp. 478-479 in P.A.R. Hockey, W.R.J. Dean, and P.G. Ryan
  (eds.), Roberts Birds of Southern Africa. VIIth edition. Trustees of the
  John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town, South Africa.
Kemp, A.S. 1994. Common Black-shouldered Kite. P. 115 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.
Mendelsohn, J.M. 1989. Population biology and breeding success of
  Black-shouldered Kites Elanus leucurus. Pp. 211-225 in B.-U.
  Meyburg and R.D. Chancellor (eds.), Raptors in the modern world. World
  Working Group on Birds of Prey, Berlin.
Mendelsohn, J.M. 1997. Blackshouldered Kite. Pp. 170-171 in J.A. Harrison
  et al. (eds.), The atlas of South African birds. Volume 1: Non-passerines.
  BirdLife South Africa and Avian Demography Unit, Johannesburg, South Africa.
Naoroji, R. 2006. Birds of prey of the Indian subcontinent. Christopher
  Helm, London.
Steyn, P. 1983. Birds of prey of southern Africa. Tanager Books, Dover,

Sites of Interest:
Black-winged Kite photos.
Species account, emphasizing European populations.

Legra, Leo
Rangasamy, Dhanapal
Rodríguez, Airam
Soni, Khemchand
Soni, Hiren

Last modified: 10/21/2012

Recommended Citation: Global Raptor Information Network. 2020. Species account: Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 25 Sep. 2020

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