Subfamily Elaninae - elanid
|An elanid kite, sometimes white-tailed kite, is any of several
small, long-winged, hovering raptors. All are specialist rodent
hunters and most are members of the genus Elanus. Some authorities
list the group as a formal subfamily, Elaninae.
As a subfamily there are eight species in five genera with four
of these genera being monotypic.
Elanid kites have a near-worldwide distribution, with three
endemic species found in the Americas, two in Australia, one
each in Africa and southern Asia, while the Black-winged Kite
is found over a vast range from Europe and Africa in the
west to Southeast Asia in the east.
| Swallow-tailed Kite
|Macheiramphus alcinus *)
*) Macheiramphus also spelled Machaerhamphus. Google has 53.900
and 8.230 pages respectively.
Hawk, Macheiramphus alcinus
hawk (Macheiramphus alcinus) at Cape Vidal, Northern Natal, South
Photo: Johan van Rensburg
|The Bat Hawk, Macheiramphus alcinus, is a raptor found in
sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia to New Guinea. It is named
its diet, which consists mainly of bats. It requires open space
in which to hunt, but will live anywhere from dense rainforest
The Bat Hawk is a slender, medium-sized bird of prey, usually
about 45 cm long. It has long wings and a falconine silhouette.
Adults are dark brown or black, with a white patch on the throat
and chest, and have a white streak above and below each eye.
Juveniles are mottled brown and have more white plumage than
Bats are the usual prey of the Bat Hawk, although they may eat
small birds, such as swallows, swifts and nightjars, or even
They hunt by chasing their prey at high speeds in flight. About
49% of their hunts are successful.
The Bat Hawk is crepuscular (twilight) and hunts at dusk.
Courtship involves many aerial displays and stunts. The nest
is built with sticks gathered in flight, and is about 90 cm
30 cm deep. The female is solely responsible for incubating
her clutch. The male often shares food with her. About a month
incubation begins, the eggs hatch, and both parents help to
feed their young. 3045 days after hatching, the young
They leave the nest soon after. Bat Hawks breed most years.
Kite, Elanus caeruleus
Kite, Elanus caeruleus, in Hyderabad, India
The Black-winged Kite, Elanus caeruleus, is a small diurnal
bird of prey in the family Accipitridae best known
for its habit of
hovering over open grasslands in the manner of the much-smaller
kestrels. This Eurasian and African species was sometimes
combined with the Australian Black-shouldered Kite, Elanus
axillaris, and the White-tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus,
and South America which together form a superspecies. This
kite is distinctive, with long-wings, white, grey and black
plumage and owl like forward-facing eyes with red irides.
Although mainly seen on the plains, they are sometimes seen
grassy slopes of hills in the higher elevation regions of
Asia. They are not migratory, but make short-distance movements
response to weather.
This long-winged raptor is predominantly grey or white with
black shoulder patches, wing tips and eye stripe. The long
like wings extend beyond the tail when the bird is perched.
In flight, the short and square tail is visible and it is
not forked as in
the typical kites of the genus Milvus. When perched,
often on roadside wires, it often adjusts its wings and
jerks its tail up and
down as if to balance itself. The sexes are alike in plumage.
Their large forward-facing eyes and velvety plumage are
that are shared with owls and the genus itself has been
considered as a basal group within the Accipitridae.
The Black-winged Kite is a species primarily of open land
and semi-deserts in sub-Saharan Africa and tropical Asia,
has a foothold within Europe in Spain and Portugal. The
species range appears to be expanding in southern Europe
possible in West Asia.
Kite, Elanus caeruleus, Etosha Nat. Park, Namibia
Photo: Thomas Schoch
The Black-winged Kite breeds at different times of the
year across its range. Although nesting has been noted throughout
year in India, they appear not to breed in April and May.
Courtship is noisy and involves chases and once the pair
they copulate frequently. The nest is a loose platform of
twigs in which 3 or 4 eggs are laid. The female spends more
the construction of the nest than the male. The eggs are
pale creamy with spots of deep red. Both parents incubate
the chicks hatch, the male spends more time on foraging
for food. Females initially feed the young, sometimes hunting
the nest but will also receive food from the male. After
fledging the young birds continue to be dependent for food
on the male
parent for about 80 days, initially transferring food at
perch and later in the air.
The prey include grasshoppers, crickets and other large
insects, lizards and rodents. Injured birds, small snakes
have also been recorded. The slow hunting flight is like
a harrier, but it will hover like a Kestrel. It has on rare
known to hunt prey in flight. Favourite perches are used
for hunting and for feeding but large prey may sometimes
on the ground.In southern Africa, they appear to favour
roadside verges for foraging and are sometimes killed by
These birds roost communally with groups of 15 to 35 (larger
numbers in Europe) converging at a large leafy tree.
They are extremely silent and the calls recorded include
a high-pitched squeal or a soft whistle. They call a lot
during the breeding season
Kite, Elanus axillaris
Black-shouldered Kite at Royal Botanic Gardens, Cranbourne,
The Black-shouldered Kite, Elanus axillaris, or Australian
Black-shouldered Kite is a small raptor found in open habitat
throughout Australia and resembles similar species found in
Eurasia and North America, which have in the past also been
named as Black-shouldered Kites. Measuring 3538 cm in
length with a wingspan of 8095 cm, the adult Black-shouldered
is a small and graceful, predominantly pale grey and white,
raptor with black shoulders and red eyes. Their primary call
is a clear
whistle, uttered in flight and while hovering.
Though reported across Australia, they are most common in the
south-east and south-west corners of the mainland.
Their prefer habitat is open grasslands with scattered trees
and they are often seen hunting along roadsides. Like all the
elanid kites, it is a specialist predator of rodents, which
it hunts singly or in pairs by hovering in mid-air above open
Black-shouldered Kites form monogamous pairs, breeding between
August and January. The birds engage in aerial courtship
displays which involve high circling flight and ritualised feeding
mid-air. Three or four eggs are laid and incubated for around
days. Chicks are fully fledged within five weeks of hatching
and can hunt for mice within a week of leaving the nest. Juveniles
disperse widely from the home territory.
They are sedentary, or nomadic following food sources. Their
numbers fluctuate during drought and floods, and can be irruptive
in response to sudden increases in mouse populations. The most
distant banding recovery was from South Australia to eastern
New South Wales, a distance of 1000 km.
Although found in timbered country, they are mainly birds of
the grasslands. They prefer open areas with scattered clumps
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.
Kite hunting from a perch
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 reptiles, 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
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
well-advanced fledglings within an hour. In another study, a
female Kite was seen to struggle back to fledglings in the nest
a three-quarters grown rabbit, a heavy load for such a small
Typically, a kite will hover 10 to 12 metresabove a particular
spot, peering down intently, sometimes for only a few seconds,
often for a minute or more, then glide swiftly to a new vantage
point and hover again. When hunting from a perch, a dead
tree is the preferred platform. When a mouse or other prey is
spotted, the kite drops silently onto it, feet-first with wings
high; sometimes in one long drop to ground level, more often
in two or more stages, with hovering pauses at intermediate
Prey is seized in the talons and about 75% of attacks are successful.
Prey can either be eaten in flight or carried back to a perch.
Birds will have a favoured feeding perch, beneath which accumulate
piles of pellets or castings.