Scissor-tailed Kite (Chelictinia riocourii)

Scissor-tailed Kite

[order] ACCIPITRIFORMES | [family] Accipitridae | [latin] Chelictinia riocourii | [authority] Vieillot, 1822 | [UK] Scissor-tailed Kite | [FR] Elanion naucler | [DE] Schwalbenschwanz-Aar | [ES] Elanio golondrina | [NL] Afrikaanse Zwaluwstaartwouw


Monotypic species


Members of the genus Chelictinia feed both on small insects and rodents. They have peculiar trait, making them different from others. Their talons are flat or rounded, not grooved as in other birds of prey. They are related to Gampsonyx and Elanus groups. It containts only one species.

Physical charateristics

Uniformly pale grey to almost white underparts. Upperparts uniform darker grey with a long swallow-like tail. The wings have a black carpal patch. A small black eye mask; Side of the face white with a yellow cere. Beak pale yellow with a black tip. Forehead white, crow and nape grey suggesting a hooded appearance. Legs and talons pale yellow. Other birds in genus have different coloration or have black on outer wings.

wingspan min.: 0 cm wingspan max.: 0 cm
size min.: 35 cm size max.: 38 cm
incubation min.: 0 days incubation max.: 0 days
fledging min.: 0 days fledging max.: 0 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 3  
      eggs max.: 5  


Africa : East, Central, West


Occurs in savanna, open bush, and semi-arid wooded habitats at the interface of the Sahel and into the western Rift Valley of Kenya. Highly social, often occurring in small flocks, but also found singly, or in pairs


It may also nest in loose colonies. The small stick nest is placed in thick thorny bush. Usually four eggs are laid. The nest is often asscoiated with other raptor nests,f.e. a nest was built just below a large Secretarybird nest. This species does not remove fecal sacks, the nest becomes white and conspicuous. No further data on care, incubation or fledging periods.

Feeding habits

Although primarily preying on insects and spiders, during the breeding season, it also takes lizards and rodents. It hunts on the wing, by soaring and hovering before to descend to hawk the flying prey or catch it on the ground. This is a gregarious species, sleeping at communal roost at night and hunting in loose flocks.

Video Scissor-tailed Kite


copyright: Martin Kennewell


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 small, 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.
The species is vulnerable to degradation of the habitat and pesticides. However, populations seem to be locally common in spite of decline in some parts of the range.
Scissor-tailed Kite status Least Concern


Performs regular movements, but extent varies annually. In West Africa, moves South in Nov at start of dry season, and N to breed in Sahel zone when rains start in Feb. In East Africa moves South in Mar to breed, also during rainy season; small population resident in some areas of N Kenya, e.g. Kedong Valley; other birds may occur further South, but generally only as irregular non-breeding vagrants.

Distribution map

Scissor-tailed Kite distribution range map

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