White-tailed Kite (Elanus leucurus)

White-tailed Kite

[order] ACCIPITRIFORMES | [family] Accipitridae | [latin] Elanus leucurus | [authority] Vieillot, 1818 | [UK] White-tailed Kite | [FR] Elanion a queue blanche | [DE] Weissschwanz-Aar | [ES] Elanio Maromero | [NL] Amerikaanse Grijze Wouw


Monotypic species


Members of the genus Elanus are rather small kites. Their wings are long and pointed, the tail double rounded. They have small bills and feet, and are generally grey and white with varying amounts of black on the shoulders. The genus is cosmopolitan, but favours tropical or sub-tropical climes. Only in Australia do two species of this genus co-exist, both of which are unique to that continent, although one – the Australian Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus notatus) is closely related to, and may be a race of the Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus Caeruleus).

Physical charateristics

The White-tailed Kite was formerly known as the Black-shouldered Kite, until the species was split, with the North American birds taking the new moniker. The White-tailed Kite is a distinctive bird, especially when hovering over open fields. The kite’s upperparts are mostly grey, with bold black shoulders. Its tail is white above and below, with a small stripe of light grey down the center of the upper side of the tail. From below, the kite’s body appears to be white, with black patches at the wrists and grey-black primaries. Its head is mostly white with red eyes. Juveniles are similar, but have a buffy wash over much of their bodies. The kite’s wings are long and pointed, often held in a dihedral during soaring. Outside of the breeding season, they roost communally, sometimes in groups of more than 100 birds.

Listen to the sound of White-tailed Kite

[audio:http://www.planetofbirds.com/MASTER/ACCIPITRIFORMES/Accipitridae/sounds/White-tailed Kite.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 95 cm wingspan max.: 105 cm
size min.: 33 cm size max.: 35 cm
incubation min.: 30 days incubation max.: 32 days
fledging min.: 33 days fledging max.: 32 days
broods: 2   eggs min.: 2  
      eggs max.: 5  


North America, Latin America : South, West USA to Central Argentina


White-tailed Kites are found in open grasslands with scattered trees for nesting and perching. They are often found along tree-lined river valleys with adjacent open areas, but are not usually found in forests or in clearcuts within forests.


White-tailed Kites form a monogamous pair in December, and the pair stays together year round. Nest building starts in January. They nest in the top of a tree, usually 20-50 feet off the ground. Both members of the pair help build the nest, which is made of twigs and lined with grass, weeds, or leaves. The male brings food to the female as she incubates 4 eggs for 30-32 days. Once the eggs hatch, the male continues to bring food to the brooding female, who feeds it to the young. The young begin to fly at 30-35 days, but don’t start catching their own prey for at least another month. The pair may raise a second brood.

Feeding habits

Small mammals, especially voles, make up the majority of the White-tailed Kite’s diet.

Video White-tailed Kite


copyright: youtube


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 increasing, 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.
In Suriname a fairly common resident, migrant and breeding brid. Found in the open savannah and coastal plains in areas with scattered trees.
White-tailed Kite status Least Concern


Migratory or nomadic, when prey abundance declines. In California, one population stayed in a reserve, despite sharp drop in prey (vole) abundance, even continuing to catch same proportion of voles, but presumably requiring more time per capture. Transition between migratory and resident populations unknown, especially in Southern South America. Birds from extreme South of range move North to Central Chile in May-June. in Surinam, most birds are austral migrants, although a few breed. Congregates in large flocks in winter. Often roosts in flocks, usually in trees, one flock of over 100 birds roosted overnight in tall sugarcane, after staging on ground in nearby ploughed field.

Distribution map

White-tailed Kite distribution range map


Title Food partitioning between breeding White-tailed Kites
(Elanus leucurus; Aves; Accipitridae) and Barn Owls
(Tyto alba; Aves; Tytonidae) in southern Brazil
Author(s): Scheibler, DR.
Abstract: I examined the diet of breeding White-tailed Kites..[more]..
Source: Braz. J. Biol., 67(1): 65-71, 2007

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Title Elanus leucurus breeding in Surinam
Abstract: The South American race of the White-tailed Kite (..[more]..
Source: The Auk, 76(4)

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Abstract: Between November 1973 and January 1974 we collecte..[more]..
Source: The Auk 97: 186-190. January 1980

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