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Three Star Grading

Tourism Grading Council
South Africa





 

 

 

 

 

 



Birds of South Africa

Click on Links below to see info of South African and St. Lucia Bird Species
African Crowned Eagle| African Fish Eagle| Black Shouldered Kite| Blue Crane| Great White Pelican| Malachite Kingfisher| Purple Crested Lourie| Secretary Bird| Spotted Eagle Owl| Verreaux's (Black) Eagle|

Common Name: Black Shouldered Kite

Scientific Name: Elanus axillaris

Description:

Black Shouldered Kites are a very pale grey with a white head and white underparts. The leading edge of the inner wing is black. When perched, this gives them their prominent black "shoulders". They have red eyes, with a black 'comma' that extends behind the eyes. They have a squared tail, and like all birds, a streamlined aerodynamic body. The bill is short with a sharp, hooked tip to the upper mandible. Their nostrils and the skin at the base of the bill (cere) are bright yellow and the bill is black. The legs and feet are also yellow, and the feet have three toes facing forwards and one toe facing backwards. The sexes are similar, with females only just larger than males, although they can be up to 15% heavier. is very similar to the related raptor species, the Letter-winged Kite, but has the black mark above and behind the eye, a white rather than grey crown, and shows all-white underparts in flight except for the black patch at the shoulder and dark wingtips

Bird

Pictures: Courtesy of South African Tourism!

Size:

Black-shouldered Kites are around 35 to 38 cm in height and have a wingspan of between 81 and 96 cm and an average weight of 292 grams .

Area:

Found virtually throughout Southern Africa but avoids the Karoo and the Namib Desert. Although found in timbered country, they are mainly birds of the grasslands. They prefer open areas with scattered clumps of trees, including tree-lined watercourses through open country. In urban areas they are found on the edge of towns on wasteland or irregularly mown areas. They also hunt over coastal dunes and drier marshland, and farmland. Black-shouldered Kites are most often seen hunting over grassy roadside verges.

Habits:

Black-shouldered Kites usually hunt singly or in pairs, though where food is plentiful they occur in small family groups and can be loosely gregarious at times of irruptions, with up to seventy birds reported feeding together during a mouse plague. They roost communally, like other Elanus species. They are territorial when food is not abundant. The practise of "tail flicking" where, on landing, the tail is flicked up and lowered and the movement repeated persistently is thought to be a possible territorial display. Black-shouldered Kites have been observed in aerial combat at the margins of territories, locking talons in a behaviour described as "grappling".

Nesting:

Aerial courtship displays involve single and mutual high circling flight, and the male may fly around slowly with stiff exaggerated flaps, commonly known as butterfly-flight. Courting males dive at the female, feeding her in mid-flight. The female grabs food from the male's talons with hers while flipping upside-down. They may lock talons and tumble downwards in a ritualised version of grappling, but release just before landing. All courtship displays are accompanied by constant calling. Black-shouldered Kites form monogamous pairs. The breeding season is usually August to January, but is responsive to mice populations, and some pairs breed twice in a good season. Both sexes are involved in building the nest, which is a large untidy shallow cup of sticks usually in the foliage near the top of trees, taking about two weeks to complete the nest-building. The flat nest is built of thin twigs and is around 28 to 38 cm across when newly built, but growing to around 78 cm across and 58 cm deep after repeated use. The nest is lined with green leaves and felted fur, though linings of grass and cow dung have also been reported. It is generally located in the canopy of an isolated or exposed tree in open country, elevated 5 to 20 m (15 to 60 ft) or more above the ground. Females perform most of the care of eggs and nestlings, though males take a minor share of and brooding. The clutch consists of three to four dull white eggs of a tapered oval shape measuring 42 x 31 mm and with red-brown blotches that are often heavier around the larger end of the egg. The female incubates the eggs for 30 days and when the eggs hatch the chicks are helpless but have soft down covering their body. For the first two weeks or so the female broods the chicks constantly, both day and night. The female does no hunting at all for the first three weeks after hatching, but calls to the male from the nest, and he generally responds by bringing food. The female feeds the chicks with the mice caught

Food:

Black-shouldered Kites live almost exclusively on mice, and have become a specialist predator of house mice in Australia, often following outbreaks of mouse plagues in rural areas. They take other suitably-sized creatures when available, including grasshoppers, rats, small reptile, birds and even (very rarely) rabbits but mice and other mouse-sized mammals account for over 90% of their diet. Their influence on mouse populations is probably significant: adults take two or three mice a day each if they can, around a thousand mice a year. On one occasion a male was observed bringing no less than 14 mice to a nest of well-advanced fledglings within an hour. In another study, a female Kite was seen to struggle back to fledglings in the nest with a three-quarters grown rabbit, a heavy load for such a small bird