Black-shouldered Kite

Elanus axillaris

Black-shouldered Kite
Black-shouldered Kites. Photo: Kevin Williams

Black-shouldered Kites are commonly seen hovering over open areas. The pure white tail lacks the dark band found on the other common hovering bird of prey, the Nankeen Kestrel. The Black-shouldered Kite is one of four very similar species in the genus Elanus found throughout the tropic and semi-tropics, although only the Letter-winged Kite (E. scriptus) is also found in Australia.

Their prey is mainly small rodents but also take other small vertebrates (reptiles and birds) and large insects such as grasshoppers. They hunt mainly by hovering and then dropping onto their prey, but will also hunt from a perch or in flight.

Black-shouldered Kite
Black-shouldered Kite. Photo: John Spiers


They can breed throughout the year with a peak during spring and autumn and may have two broods a year when food abundant. Male and females may often be seen taking part in aerial displays. The nest us a platform of sticks lined with green leaves, built by the female, but the male may gather material. The female incubates while the male hunts and hands over prey caught.





The sexes are alike but the female is larger. The head, neck, underwing and underparts are snowy white, while the upperparts and upperwings are a light grey. This contrasts with the trademark jet-black shoulder patch (lesser wing coverts). A black spot on the underwing primary coverts distinguishes the Black-shouldered Kite from its cogeners elsewhere in the world. The iris is orange-red and there is a small dark spot in front of the eye. The bill is black with a yellow cere. The legs and feet are yellow. Immatures have darker upperparts with white edging to the feathers, there is brown mottling on the underparts and wings. The iris is brown rather than the orange-red of adults and the cere is a paler horn colour.

Where to find it

Black-shouldered Kites are found throughout South Australia where there is suitable habitat. They favour grassland or sparsely wooded area, whether natural or agricultural, but may also be found along the coast, along water courses and vacant grass land in urban areas. They are mainly resident but may move in response to the availability of their rodent prey. Distribution Map