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Square-tailed Kite
Lophoictinia isura

Status: Lower risk

Population Trend: Unknown.

Other Names: Long-winged Kite.

Lophoictinia isura
click to enlarge
Distribution: Australasian. Breeds in southwestern and southern and eastern AUSTRALIA; birds from southern Australia overwinter in norther tropical areas. more....

Subspecies: Monotypic.

Taxonomy: Probably more closely related to other Australasian groups than to the kite genera, Haliastur and Milvus, as previously thought (Debus 1994, 1998). This conclusion was supported by the molecular studies of Wink and Sauer-Gürth (2004), based on the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene, and Lerner and Mindell (2005), based on the molecular sequence from two mitochondrial genes and one nuclear intron, which indicated that Hamirostra melanosternon and Lophoictinia isura are sister species. They are members of the Perninae, which includes the Old World honey buzzards, and together with Pernis, Elanus, Henicopernis, and the Neotropical genera Elanoides, Leptodon, and Chondrohierax, they are apparently derived from a Gondwanan group.

Movements: Long distance migrant with southerly breeding birds, or their offspring, moving north to winter in the tropics and returning in the following spring (Marchant and Higgins 1993, Debus 1998).

Habitat and Habits: Occurs in coastal and subcoastal open forests and woodlands, and inland in riparian eucalypt woodland (Debus 1992). This is a very aerial species of the canopy, which rarely, if ever, visits the ground, and it is a specialized predator of nestling birds in woodlands, along timbered watercourses, and adjacent heathlands (DEbus 1993, Olsen 1995, Barnes et al. 1999). Unlike other kites, it is usually solitary and seen flying leisurely over the canopy of open forest, heaths, and woodland (Olsen op cit.), or gliding sideways between the crowns of trees (Debus 1998). It appears to prefer a landscape that is structurally diverse (Garnett and Crowley 2000).

Food and Feeding Behavior: Feeds mostly on the eggs and nestlings of birds, but also on adult birds, especially honeyeaters and other passerine species that nest in foliage (Debus 1998, Barnes et al. 1999). Also eats insects, reptiles, tree frogs, and, rarely, small mammals, but does not feed on carrion (Debus op cit.). It may hawk flying insects, drop suddenly to snatch prey from foliage or seize prey startled into flight, or tear wasp nests apart to feed on the larvae (Hobson 2006).

Breeding: Pairs nest solitarily, and the nest is a platform of sticks lined with green leaves and placed 8-34 m above the ground in the fork of a living tree within forest or woodland (Debus 1998). The clutch size is 2 or 3 eggs, usually 3. The incubation period is probably about 40 days, and the nestling period is about 59-65 days (Debus op cit.). The young are dependent upon the adults for about one to two months after fledging. more....

Conservation: Debus (1998) regarded the Square-tailed Kite as Globally Threatened and Vulnerable. He felt that it is uncommon and declining in its southern and eastern breeding range, where it is affected by habitat clearance and illegal egg collecting. However, Garnett and Crowley (2000) suggested that declines at the fringes of the range might be offset by apparent increases elsewhere, and they regarded it as a species of Least Concern nationally. It is also categorized as a species of "Least Concern" by BirdLife International, based on the probability that its population has not declined more than 30% in 10 years or three generations. However, it is still classified as Rare in South Australia and Vulnerable in New South Wales, according to Debus (2009). He reported that it is increasing in coastal New South Wales, and in the Sydney hinterland and Blue Mountains, and can now be seen around many towns and cities along the entire NSW coast (Debus 2008). more....

Population Estimates: Garnett and Crowley (2000) estimated that the total population is unlikely to exceeed 10,000 adults.

Important References: 
Debus, S.J.S. 1994. Square-tailed Kite. Pp. 112 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.
Debus, S. 1998. The birds of prey of Australia: a field guide. Oxford
  University Press, Melbourne.
Debus, S.J.S., and G.V. Czechura. 1989. The Square-tailed Kite
  Lophoictinia isura: a review. Australian Bird Watcher 13:81-97.
Ferguson-Lees, J., and D.A. Christie. 2001. Raptors of the world. Houghton
  Mifflin, Boston, MA.
Garnett, S. 1992. Threatened and extinct birds of Australia. RAOU Report
  82. Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union, Canberra, Australia.
Garnett, S.T., and G.M. Crowley. 2000. The Action Plan for Australian
  birds. Environment Australia, Canberra, Australia.
Marchant, S., and P. Higgins (eds.). Handbook of Australian, New Zealand,
  and Antarctic birds. Vol. 2. Raptors to lapwings. Oxford University Press,
  Melbourne, Australia.
Olsen, P. 1995. Australian birds of prey. John Hopkins University Press,
  Baltimore, MD.

Debus, Stephen
Gregory, Tim

Last modified: 7/15/2011

Recommended Citation: Global Raptor Information Network. 2017. Species account: Square-tailed Kite Lophoictinia isura. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 23 Feb. 2017

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