- 12.6–15 in
- 10.6–12.7 oz
- Élanion à queue blanche (French)
- Milano coliblanco, Milano maromero (Spanish)
- During the nonbreeding season, the White-tailed Kite roosts communally, with more than 100 individuals counted at some roosts.
- Although some populations fluctuate regularly in size, it is unknown whether the White-tailed Kite is migratory, nomadic, or both.
- The oldest recorded White-tailed Kite was at least 6 years old when it was found in California.
Commonly found in savanna, open woodlands, marshes, desert grassland, partially cleared lands, and cultivated fields. Generally avoids areas with extensive winter freezes, but rainfall and humidity vary greatly throughout this bird's range. White-tailed Kites hunt over lightly grazed or ungrazed fields where there may be larger prey populations than in more heavily grazed areas.
The White-tailed Kite eats mainly small mammals, as well as some birds, lizards, and insects. An analysis of more than 12,500 prey items showed that more than 95% were small mammals, suggesting that White-tailed Kites specialize on these animals and that other prey are taken only incidentally.
- Clutch Size
- 4 eggs
- Number of Broods
- 1 broods
- Egg Length
- 1.5–1.8 in
- Egg Width
- 1.2–1.3 in
- Incubation Period
- 30–32 days
- Nestling Period
- 38–35 days
- Egg Description
- White overall, blotched with dark brown.
- Condition at Hatching
- Helpless, covered in tan or yellowish down, weighing about 0.6 ounce.
The nest is a shallow bowl made mostly of small twigs and lined with grass, hay, or leaves. Nests measure about 21 inches across, with a cup that's about 7 inches across and 4 inches deep.
White-tailed Kites typically nest in the upper third of trees that may be 10–160 feet tall. These can be open-country trees growing in isolation, or at the edge of or within a forest. Nests have been reported in more than 20 tree species. Rarely, White-tailed Kites build nests on top of old, unused nests of other species. Both sexes help choose the nest site; the female may build the nest herself or both sexes may participate.
While hunting, the White-tailed Kite characteristically hovers up to 80 feet off the ground and then drops straight down onto prey items. This ability to hold a stationary position in midair without flapping is accomplished by facing into the wind, and is so characteristic of these birds that it has come to be called kiting. White-tailed Kites also perform ritualized courtship displays in which a male offers prey to a female prior to egg laying. In an often spectacular aerial exchange, the female flies up to meet the male, turns upside-down, and grasps the prey.
White-tailed Kite is a relatively rare species and its prey fluctuates greatly in numbers from year to year—so measuring population trends of this kite is difficult. Populations appear to have experienced a small decline between 1966 and 2014, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 2 million with 4% living in the U.S., and 10% in Mexico. The species rates an 8 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, and is not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List. In the early 20th century, White-tailed Kites, like many hawks, were subject to shooting as well as egg collecting. Development of land can deprive this species of nest trees, and modern farming techniques can eliminate vegetation that its main prey, voles, use for cover. In a conservation effort in northern California, the California Department of Fish and Game set aside grazed pastures and allowed them to return to grassland; they now support about 10 times the number of raptors, including White-tailed Kites, as before the program began. According to NatureServe, their status is of particular concern in Florida and Louisiana.
- Dunk, J. R. 1995. White-tailed Kite (Elanus leucurus). In The Birds of North America, No. 178 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
- North American Bird Conservation Initiative, U.S. Committee. 2014. State of the Birds 2014 Report. U.S. Department of Interior, Washington, DC.
- Partners in Flight. 2012. Species assessment database.
- USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. 2015. Longevity records of North American Birds.
- USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. 2014. North American Breeding Bird Survey 1966–2014 Analysis.