White-Tailed Kite an accidental visitor

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Story & Photograph By Horace Brown

The White-tailed Kite is a 15-inch bird with a 39-inch wingspan that weighs 12 ounces and has been seen one time in Kentucky on May 5, 1991 and is considered an accidental visitor.

It is fairly common in California and Texas but seems to be expanding its range. They are the most common from Mexico south on down to South America to Nicaragua and central Chile.

Climate Change is predicted to force this species to become extinct, as it is one of 314 species that the seven-year study by the National Audubon Society believes will be greatly effected unless somehow we can reverse the trend.

In flight, one’s initial thought is that what you are seeing might be a gull rather than a hawk like bird because they often look all-white but a closer view reveals a distinctive pattern of gray and black on the underparts.

The White-tailed Kite frequently hovers while searching for prey, but also glides with wings held in a V and will also perch in treetops or other high lookouts as well as roadside posts.

They have long pointed wings, a long tail and a habit of dangling their feet in flight. The sexes are similar in coloration and are often very active at dawn and dusk.

They prefer grassland habitat with scattered trees and are seldom numerous except at times they may form a winter roost of more than 100 birds.

Unlike other North American Kites they eat mainly rodents as well as insects that other kite species prefer. The White-tailed Kite’s preferred menu includes meadow voles as well as chipmunks, lizards, snakes, grasshoppers, and small birds. Their voice is a mellow whistle/ yelp “eerk-eerk.”

They nest 15 to 59 feet above the ground in oaks, willows, cottonwoods, or other deciduous trees. It is a bulky and a deeply hollowed structure of small fine twigs that is lined with dry grass, forbs, and rootlets. The nests are often used in succeeding years.

The female lays three to six, commonly four to five white or a creamy white ground color often concealed by profuse markings of rich brown over washes or splashes of brighter browns. These smooth shelled eggs are not glossy. Incubation is by both sexes for about 30 days.

South Texas is probably the best place to visit and try to view this interesting bird species in the great outdoors.


To read more columns about birds by Horace Brown, visit www.SentinelNews.com/recreation. Horace Brown is a civil/sanitary engineer, land surveyor and nature photographer and writer. To contact him or order a copy of Brown’s 2016 Bitterns, Cranes, Egrets, Herons and a Stork calendar, E-mail whbrownpelpls@aol.com, call 502-682-7711 or write 527 Main St., Shelbyville 40065.