The Black Kite is a mediumsized 47 to 55 cm bird of prey raptor. From a distance, it appears almost black, with a light brown bar on the shoulder. The plumage is actually dark brown, with scattered light brown and rufous markings, particularly on the head, neck and underparts. The tail is forked and barred with darker brown. This feature gives the bird its alternative name of Forktailed Kite. The eye is dark brown and the bill is black with a yellow cere area of skin around the nostrils. The call is a descending whistle pseeerr followed by a staccato sisisisisi. Both sexes are similar.
Young Black Kites are generally lighter in colour than the adults, and have a comparatively shallower forked tail. The Black Kite's plumage is somewhat simliar to other raptors, such as the Little Eagle, Hieraaetus morphnoides, Whistling Kite, Haliastur sphenurus, and Squaretailed Kite, Lophoictinia isura. In flight, however, its long forked tail and almost unmarked underwing make it unmistakable.
Distribution and Habitat
The Black Kite is found in a variety of habitats, from timbered watercourses to open plains, and is often observed in and around outback towns. Its range covers the majority of the Australian mainland, as well as Africa, Asia and Europe. Although it is more normally seen in small groups, the Black Kite may form huge flocks of many thousands of birds, especially during grasshopper plagues. No other Australian bird of prey is seen in such large flocks.
The Black Kite is arguably the most numerous species of raptor in the world.
Food and feeding
The Black Kite preys on lizards, small mammals and insects, especially grasshoppers. It also is a scavenger, and frequents tips in outback towns. Black Kites also gather in flocks around bush fires, and eagerly pounce on small animals as these flee the flames. Both live and dead carrion prey is eaten.
Black Kites breed at any time of year, but usually between August and November. They nest in isolated pairs or in small, scattered colonies. As with other raptors, a ritualised aerial courtship display is performed by both sexes. This involves loud calling, grappling of feet talons, and tumbling or cartwheeling. The nest is a bulky cup of sticks, lined with softer material, and is placed in the fork of a tree branch generally close to the trunk. The female incubates the one to three eggs while the male provides food. The young birds hatch after about a month and leave the nest fledge after a further 40 days.