Plumbeous Kite (Ictinia plumbea)

Plumbeous Kite

[order] ACCIPITRIFORMES | [family] Accipitridae | [latin] Ictinia plumbea | [authority] Gmelin, 1788 | [UK] Plumbeous Kite | [FR] Milan bleuatre | [DE] Schwebeweih | [ES] Elanio Plomizo | [NL] Donkergrijze Wouw


Monotypic species


Members of the genus Ictinia are medium-sized kites. Their wings are long and pointed, and their tails are medium-sized, square or slightly forked. Te bill is small to medium, with an inconspicuous ‘tooth’ on each edge of the upper mandible. The legs are short; and the talons short but strongly curved. The general colour is grey.
Immatures differ from the adults in colour, but quickly moult to an adult-like plumage.
Although this is, in many ways, a classic kite, the genus is not particularly close to any other. There are two species ranging from central United States to Argentina; those in the cooler parts of range are migratory.

Physical charateristics

The adult Plumbeous Kite is pale ashy grey on the head and upper back. The mantle, wings and tail are a slightly glossy deep grey – almost black. The tail has white spots on inner webs of its feathers, forming two bands across the tail. The primaries are extensively rufous except near the tips. The sides of the head and the under parts medium grey, not as pale as throat and crown. The lores and a narrow area around the eyes are black. The eyes are bright red or yellow, the cere bluish black, the bill black, and the legs reddish orange or yellow.
Immatures are black edged with white on the crown and on the sides of the head. The back, wings and tail are black, with whitish tips. The tail has three white bars. The underside is white or buff heavily streaked with black. The inner webs of the primaries are white, marbled with grey and with a rufous tinge.

Listen to the sound of Plumbeous Kite

[audio: Kite.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: cm wingspan max.: cm
size min.: 33 cm size max.: 38 cm
incubation min.: 32 days incubation max.: 33 days
fledging min.: 38 days fledging max.: 33 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 1  
      eggs max.: 2  


Latin America : Northeast Mexico to North Argentina


This kite has a wide habitat range. In various parts of its range it can be found in the mangrove zone, on pine ridges, over the near-tropical forest and adjacent roads and clearings, and in heavily forested low hills. In parts of the range, for example Costa Rica, it is local or absent except as a migrant.


Mating commences almost immediately on arrival at the breeding grounds, often with no preliminary courtship display.
Nest trees are dry season deciduous. Because nest building and incubation takes (in venezuela) place late in the dry season, the trees are usually leafless making the nests conspicuous. Nests become less conspicuous during the nestling period when nest trees leafed out at the onset of the rainy season. Nests averages 25.5 m above ground while nest trees averages 30.0 m tall. Nests are in forks created by two or more limbs, usually against the bole or on major limbs, but sometimes in slender limbs toward the outer part
of the crown (n = 4). Nests arre high and exposed to sun and wind. Some nests are built on large clumps of bromeliads. Nests are built of dry sticks, lined with sprigs of green leaves, both sexes participate in construction. throughout incubation and nestling periods adults periodically add green sprigs to nests. Kites nested in the same nests or in other nearby trees from year to year. Supposedly only single-egg clutches and broods of one are laid.

During the incubation period, one adult or the other is on the nest nearly constantly. When no kite is on the nest, adults remain vigilant, with one usually perched in or near the nest tree or soaring nearby. Both sexes incubate, switching roles periodically throughout the day. On average, one adult provided 61% of incubation and the other 39%. Pair members caught their own prey throughout the incubation phase.

Both parents feed the young, one, presumably the female, spending much of the time ‘standing guard’ in the top of the nesting tree; this individual also broods the young at night. Other birds, including toucans and vultures, are chased away when they approach the nest. In weather when the parents can soar and easily catch insects, the young may be fed as often as ten times an hour, which, for a bird of prey, is very high.

Feeding habits

The diet of the Plumbeous Kite consists chiefly of large flying insects, but smaller insects, such as flying termites, are also taken. Most insects are caught in the feet. This is supplemented by snails and occasionally, or in some situations, it takes both warm- and cold-blooded small vertebrates.

Video Plumbeous Kite


copyright: R. Garrigues


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). The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not 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.
The Plumbeous Kite can be found in the tropical zone of the New World, usually below 1,000 or 1.500 meter, from east central Mexico south to northern Argentina and Paraguay. In the northern- and southern-most parts of its range, it is migratory – most of the population of Mexico and Central America wintering in South America. In Argentina it is at least partly migratory, arriving in its breeding territory abundantly about the middle of September, and leaving, perhaps for the Amazon area, in autumn. It is present throughout the year in Surinam, breeding in March?April, the opposite of the more southern area where it breeds in October-November.
Plumbeous Kite status Least Concern


Migratory in North and South of range in respective autumns. North birds move South through Panama in August and Septembr, returning to breed in March. Central American population certainly migratory, while even those in North Venezuela and Colombia may migrate South during dry season, when insects less abundant. Limits of permanently resident populations not known. Flocks appear sporadically over Central Amazon, may be nomadic migrants.

Distribution map

Plumbeous Kite distribution range map

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