Bryan Brillhart Photography present the “Dig IB” Bird of the Week, The White-tailed Kite
May 21, 2020 08:59PM
By Paul Spear
Bryan Brillhart Photography Present The “Dig IB” Bird Of The Week, The White-tailed Kite
This Week’s “Bird of the Week” is the White-tailed Kite (Elanus leucurus), a raptor found in western North America and parts of South America. They are in the hawk and eagle family. The North American population has been increasing and spreading since about the 1930s, invading many new areas where it was never known historically. They have also spread and increased in the American tropics with the clearing of forest. As recently as the 1940s, this graceful hawk was considered rare and endangered in North America, restricted to a few sites in California and Texas. In recent decades, it has increased greatly in numbers and spread into many new areas. It is often seen hovering on rapidly beating wings over open fields, looking for small rodents, its main food source. The introduction of the house mouse from Europe may have played a part in its increase; formerly, the kite fed almost entirely on voles.
Habitat is in open groves, river valleys, marshes, grasslands. They are found in a wide variety of open habitats in North America, including open oak grassland, desert grassland, farm country, and marshes. Main requirements for habitation seems to be trees for perching and nesting, and open ground with a high population of rodents.
They hunt mostly by flying over open country, pausing frequently to hover and study the ground; on sighting prey, it dives, catching prey in its talons. Diet is mostly small rodents, specializing on small rodents that are active by day in open country, particularly voles and house mice. Other items in their diet, of minor importance, include pocket gophers, harvest mice, rats, shrews, young rabbits, and sometimes birds. They may rarely may eat snakes, lizards, frogs, and large insects.
In courtship, males fly near females in an odd hover with wings in sharp "V," while calling; males then feed females. Nest sites are in the top of trees, usually 20-50' above the ground, but sometimes higher or lower depending on available sites. Live-oaks are often chosen as nest sites. Nest (built by both sexes) is a good-sized platform of sticks and twigs, lined with grasses, weeds, and Spanish moss.
After mating, females usually lay 4, sometimes 5, rarely 6 eggs. Females may tend to lay larger clutches in years when rodents are abundant. Eggs are creamy white, blotched with shades of warm brown. Incubation is by females, in about 26-32 days. Males usually perch nearby, and bring food to females during incubation. Females brood their young while they are small; males bring food, and females feed it to their nestlings. Later, prey is dropped into the nest, and the young feed on it themselves. Young are able to fly at about 30-35 days, but may return to their nest to sleep or to be fed for some time after. Adults may nest a 2nd time in the same season, and if so, young from the first nesting may be driven from that territory.
I was very lucky to spot a Wite-tailed Kite resting in a tree in the Tijuana Estuary. Look for this beautiful rapor,and the many other birds that feed and nest there, while enjoying a relaxing hike or bike ride. Until next week, happy birding!
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