Whistling Kite

Haliastur sphenurus

Whistling Kite. Photo: Jeff Groves

Whistling Kites are named after their high-pitched whistle call consisting of a descending “seeeeo” followed by a fast ascending sequence of 4 – 7 staccato notes. Often one can tell there are Whistling Kites in the area from their whistle before a bird is seen. They are frequently  seen  circling lazily overhead, uttering their characteristic whistling, and displaying a distinctive underwing pattern with white “windows” (pictured above).

Whistling Kite. Photo: John Spiers

Whistling Kites predate small vertebrates, particularly rabbits, and are even recorded as taking a fledgling Welcome Swallow on the wing. They also eat carrion, and invertebrates such as crustaceans and wasp larvae. These kites typically forages by quartering and high soaring. Sometimes they hover briefly and then drop onto prey.

Breeding occurs from July to December. The nest is a platform of sticks lined with green leaves placed high in the fork of a tree. Between one and four eggs are laid, usually two.



Males and females are alike except that the female is up 21% larger and 42% heavier than the male. The body is sandy-brown overall, with a paler head, dark brown wing feathers and black primaries. The tail is long and pale with slightly rounded tip. The legs are long and cream coloured, the cere is grey and the eyes brown. The underwing pattern is distinctive. The coverts form a sandy brown triangle on the leading edge, the secondaries are dark brown and barred, the outer primaries are black and the inner primaries are white forming the white “window”. Juveniles are streaked rusty and darker adults. The greater coverts have a pale tip forming a pale line along the middle of the uppperwing.

Where to find it

Whistling Kites may be founded in lightly wooded and open habitats through most of South Australia, but are mainly to be found along river valleys, inland drainages, and estuaries. They are relatively common along the Murray River and its tributaries. Only the nominate race is found in South Australia (H. s. sphenurus).