Grey-headed Kite (Leptodon cayanensis)

Grey-headed Kite

[order] ACCIPITRIFORMES | [family] Accipitridae | [latin] Leptodon cayanensis | [authority] Latham, 1790 | [UK] Grey-headed Kite | [FR] Milan de Cayenne | [DE] Cayenneweih | [ES] Milano Cabecigris | [NL] Grijskopwouw


Monotypic species


Members of the genus Leptodon are rather large Kites. The tail is long and rounded; the wings long and blunt. The bill has a single ‘tooth’. The genus has short, but stout legs. The lores are sparsely covered with bristles; the feathers of the nape are slightly lengthened and pointed. Immatures are very different from the adults in colour, the immature being highly variable in colour and with phases – the adult is not. Related to the genus Aviceda, there is but one species, in the tropics of the New World.

Physical charateristics

In the adult the top and sides of the head are grey, contrasting sharply with back and mantle which is slaty grey, becoming black across shoulders. The tail is black with a narrow white tip and two narrow grey bars and a third concealed one, these bars being broader on the outer feathers and whiter on the under surface of the tail. The wing quills ar obscurely barred with grey above; the barring is paler and sharper below. The grey of the head becomes paler on the sides and merges with the throat; which, with the entire under parts is white, with a hint of pale grey. The under-wing coverts are jet black, bordered with white on the edge of the wing. The eyes are deep blue grey, as are the cere and facial skin, and the legs. The bill is black.
In the immature pale phase the forehead, stripe above eye, a broad collar across the back of the neck and the entire under parts are white. The mantle is dark brown, with some rufous edgings which soon wear off. The tail and wings are similar to the adult, but the bars are browner above, the tail bars broader and the wing lining white.
Dark phase immatures are like pale phase above, but without the white forehead, eye stripes, or collar. Sometimes there is a poorly defined rufous collar. Below it is white or buffy white, usually broadly and heavily streaked all over with brownish black. In some individuals the throat, and to a lesser extent the breast, are almost solid black; others are marked less heavily than usual, with a heavy mid-throat stripe, but only shaft stripes elsewhere. This phase is not an intermediate step between light phase immature and adult. In young birds the cere, bare skin on face, and legs are yellow. The eye is olive to reddish brown.

Listen to the sound of Grey-headed Kite

[audio: Kite.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 0 cm wingspan max.: 0 cm
size min.: 46 cm size max.: 53 cm
incubation min.: 0 days incubation max.: 0 days
fledging min.: 0 days fledging max.: 0 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 2  
      eggs max.: 4  


Latin America : Eastcentral Mexico to North Argentina. This bird can be found mostly in tropical lowlands from central eastern Mexico south to eastern Bolivia, northern Argentina, Paraguay, and southern Brazil.


This is chiefly a bird of humid lowland or sub-tropical forests, often near water, but sometimes found in drier places. It often frequents the very edges of groves or forests. Preferring perches high in densely foliaged trees, and well concealed, it moves about among the branches, presumably looking for food, before sailing slowly to another tree. The flight consists of a glide then a few flaps of the wings. It also soars and may then be seen over semi-open country. Sometimes sluggish and only with difficulty flushed from one tree to the next. When food-seeking it often uses exposed perches.


The nest is loosely constructed of approximately 100 dried twigs and about 40 cm in length by 33 cm in width and 8 cm deep. The nesting of greyheaded
Kites began in late April and early May, shortly before onset of the rainy season. The nests are structurally weak and positioned near the apex of canopy-level or emergent trees. The height of the nest varies from 20 – 30 meter. Clutch size is 2-4 eggs incubated by both adults.
grey-headed Kites can often be seen giving unique courtship or territorial displays above the forest canopy. These distinctive displays consist of rapid shortened wing beats, in which in the wings are held above the horizontal plane after a soar or glide, a behavior called the ?butterfly display?. A displaying kite broadcasts a ringing, hollow-sounding call.

Feeding habits

The grey-headed Kite feeds mainly on reptiles, but also takes frogs and large insects. It usually sits on an open high perch from which it swoops on its prey.

Video Grey-headed Kite


copyright: D. Ascanio


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size may be moderately small to large, but it is not believed to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Common in Suriname in the coastal regions, savannah and interior. Most probably a breeding species, but nests have never been found.
Grey-headed Kite status Least Concern


Sedentary in all of its range.

Distribution map

Grey-headed Kite distribution range map


Title A description of nests and behavior of the Gray-headed Kite.
Abstract: The Gray-headed Kite (Leptodon cayanensis), a litt..[more]..
Source: Wilson Bull., 109(l), 1997, pp. 173-177

download full text (pdf)

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