Square-tailed Kite (Lophoictinia isura)

Square-tailed Kite

[order] ACCIPITRIFORMES | [family] Accipitridae | [latin] Lophoictinia isura | [authority] Gould, 1838 | [UK] Square-tailed Kite | [FR] Milan a queue carree | [DE] Schopfmilan | [ES] Minlano Colicuadrado | [NL] Kortstaartwouw


Monotypic species


Members of the genus Lophoictinia are medium-sized kites. Their wings are long and somewhat pointed; the tail long and forked, and the legs short. The plumage is mottled and streaked – chestnut and black. This genus is similar to Milvus, although in some respects it is more like another Australian genus, Hamirostra, to which it is probably more closely related. There is but one species; in the drier and more open areas of Australia.

Physical charateristics

The crown and nape are pale rufous with broad black shaft streaks. The back and upper-wing coverts are dark sepia, with a rufous leading edge to the wing at its base, and pale sepia or rufous edgings, forming a pale patch at the bend of the wing. The upper-tail coverts are barred with sepia, rufous and white. The tail is dark brown, slightly forked, with four narrow black bars and a broad subterminal black bar. The tip of the quills are whitish. Wing quills are very long, sepia basally with some white on inner webs, barred and broadly tipped black. The chin and throat are buff with narrow black shaft streaks. The rest of the underside of the body is chestnut, streaked with black, the streaks being most broad and dens on the breast, sometimes forming a dark band. The tail quills below are silvery grey with a terminal dark grey bar. The greater primary coverts are black forming a black spot at the carpal joint; the lesser wing coverts are chestnut, streaked with black.
Primary and secondary flight feathers are white or pale grey basally, making a conspicuous white patch at the carpal joint contrasting with the black spot and chestnut wing coverts. The primaries are strongly barred with grey and black towards the tips, the secondaries being nearly plain with darker tips. The eyes, feet and cere are yellow.
Immatures are much like the adults, but are paler overall, and less heavily streaked below. The eyes are grey/brown, the cere flesh-colour, and the feet pale yellow. The long, markedly angled wings held well above the back and the almost square tail make it look rather like a harrier in flight. At rest the chestnut head and under parts contrasting strongly with blackish upper parts and very long wings reaching to or beyond the tail-tip should assist in identification.

wingspan min.: 131 cm wingspan max.: 145 cm
size min.: 50 cm size max.: 56 cm
incubation min.: 37 days incubation max.: 42 days
fledging min.: 59 days fledging max.: 65 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 2  
      eggs max.: 3  


Australasia : Australia. Endemic to Australia. This species has a large range, and is found throughout the mainland, though rarely in central Australia. Documented evidence of a decline at the edge of its range in South Australia, where there has been no recent evidence of breeding.


It occurs throughout Australia, primarily in coastal and subcoastal areas, in eucalypt forests and woodlands, along wooded watercourses and mallee, sometimes hunting over adjacent heaths and scrubby areas. It has some of the habits of a kite, soaring high over open country, scrubland or woodland, but avoiding dense forests, though preferring wooded areas. In Western Australia it likes sandy scrub, over which it flies low like a harrier. Although rare in some areas, it is locally common.


The large nest of sticks lined with green leaves is built in tall trees usually 40-80 feet up. It is about 40 inches across by 20-30 inches deep, with a cup of around 14 inches across and 3 inches deep. It is normally built by the birds themselves, but is sometimes placed on an old nest of another species. It is sometimes found very low down where large trees are not available. Other birds may be found nesting in the structure. Two or three eggs are laid. They are round oval, buffy white, glossless, boldly spotted with reddish brown and lavender. Laying dates vary from September to November, with most breeding between October and December. The whole breeding season lasts from August to December. The incubating female sits very tight. From most clutches only one young is reared.

Feeding habits

The Square-Tailed Kite is more or less omnivorous. It takes insects, young birds, reptiles, birds’ eggs, occasionally poultry, but not usually carrion. All prey is taken on the ground.

Video Square-tailed Kite


copyright: Mat Gilfedder


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 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.
Habitat destruction, the depletion of food through forestry and pastoralism, illegal egg-collectin and shooting.
Square-tailed Kite status Least Concern


Spring breeding migrant in South, non-breeding migrant to North Australia in dry season (austral winter); some breeding birds resident in Southwest and coastal East Australia , but these expand home ranges or make local movements in winter. Movement diffuse, without flocking or major concentration points, but individuals may follow ridge systems or rivers.

Distribution map

Square-tailed Kite distribution range map

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