Threats/Control Methods - Regional
The Black-shouldered Kite has benefited from land clearing for agriculture and introduced rodents. However, large sheep and rabbit populations can destroy habitats necessary for rodent populations.
Threats/Control Methods - Local
The low numbers of large trees and open spaces in urban and suburban areas limit the ideal territory for the Black-shouldered Kite to find food and suitable perches.
The key habitat regions for this species are in agricultural areas, limiting the actions suburban residents can take in their local area. However, encouraging the growth and health of local trees in reserves will increase the likelihood of catching a glimpse of this beautiful bird.
This bird is small for a hawk at 35-38cm, however it has a relatively long wingspan of 80-95cm. It has a bright white head, a pale grey back and a bold black shoulder. Its eyes are red and its short curved beak is black with small yellow nostrils. Looking up at the bird in flight, the dark grey feathers of the other wing are noticeable, as are the slightly curved tail feathers. Young birds have red-brown plumage across their head, back and underparts.
Call and visual identification.
A short, worried-sounding 'siep', a husky 'scair' and a sharp 'kik-kik-kik' defending the nest.
The Letter-winged Kite (Elanus scriptus) looks almost identical when perched, however in flight a large, bold black band under the wing feathers is an obvious difference.
This species is found right across Australia, more common to coastal areas and scarce in more arid regions. They are generally only found in TAS in times of rodent plagues.
Country of Origin
Conservation (Pet/Pest) Status - Regional
Population numbers have fluctuated over the past 25 years (COG).
Conservation (Pet/Pest) Status - National
Secure, not listed under the EPBC Act 1999.
Seven birds were seen in City West.
Associated vegetation community
This species is found most commonly across grasslands and farm with plentiful rodents and scattered trees.
The Black-shouldered Kite prefers to eat rodents and the abundance of this food source is directly related to the numbers of Kites. This is also related to good rain and good crop seasons in agricultural areas. The Kites use clear hunting territories, requiring a large area to have suitable food supplys year after year.
The Black-shouldered Kite is unique amongst raptors, as it breeds in the winter months. Its nest is well hidden in thick tree foliage, built of sticks and lined with green leaves and fur, taking from 10-12 days to construct. It is 40-45 cm in diameter, holding 2-4 large cream and brown eggs. The female incubates the eggs for 30-34 days, while the male hunts for food and watches the nest from a nearby tree. Young birds are ready to leave the nest after about 35 days. In long seasons with abundant food, several broods can be raised.
Numbers peak in July for the breeding season. This Kite is most often seen gliding, with legs dangling. It flies similarly to a seagull, with quick wing beats mixed with long glides. It can be seen hunting at dawn and dusk, when rodents are most active. Within the suburbs it will perch on a dead tree branch or power pole.
This species shows a strong dietry preference for rodents, especially the introduced House Mouse (Mus musculus). If rodents are scarce they will eat Grasshoppers (Petasida ephippigera). Prey is eaten either in-flight or on a nearby perch.
This Kite does not have any predators, instead predating other smaller species.
During the courtship time of the breeding season, males will feed females while in flight, as she flips upside-down to grab the food out of his claws.
References - (reader suitability of references, P=Primary teachers, S=Secondary students, T=Tertiary students and researchers)
Books:Morcombe, M. 2000. Field Guide to Australian Birds. Steve Parish Publishing. Archerfield. Australia P, S, T
Veerman, P. 2003. Canberra Birds: A report on the first 21 years of the garden bird survey. Philip Veerman and Canberra Ornithologists Group. Canberra. S, T
Internet: Birds in Backyards. 2006. [online]. Available at:http://www.birdsinbackyards.net P, S, T
Canberra Ornithological Group (COG). 2004. Birds of Canberra Gardens. COG and the ACT Department of Urban Services. [online]. Available at:http://garden.canberrabirds.org.au/ P, S, T
Online Publications: Nix, H. and Cunningham, R. 2006. Birds of the Lower Sullivans Creek Catchment, Canberra ACT. Prepared for the Life in the Suburbs project using data from the Lower Sullivans Creek Catchment Ecological Survey (LSCCES). Australian National University. Canberra. [online]. Available at: http://www.lifeinthesuburbs.com.au/category.php?id=65 S, T