White-Tailed Kite

White-Tailed Kite

Elanus leucurus
Population size
500,000-5 M
Life Span
6 yrs
250-380 g
35-43 cm
88-102 cm

The White-tailed kite is a small raptor found in the Americas. It is mainly white underneath and has black wingtips and shoulders. The head of this bird is white, eyes are red and the hooked bill is black in color.


White-tailed kites are found in western North America, Central America, and parts of South America. These birds inhabit coastal areas, marshes, river valleys, grasslands, savannas, and shrublands. They can also be found in urban areas and in farm country.

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

White-tailed kites are social birds and outside the breeding season, they often roost communally in groups of up to 100. During the breeding season, however, they become very territorial and may engage in aerial combat at the margins of their territories, locking talons in the behavior knowns as "grappling". White-tailed kites are diurnal; they hunt by day patrolling or hovering over lowland scrub or grassland looking for prey. When prey is spotted, the bird swoops down onto it with talons out. When White-tailed kites feel threatened they produce a call described as 'plee-wit, plee-wit', when fighting other birds, they use shrills and whistles. When at the nest, the birds communicate with each other producing 'keep-keep-keep' whistles.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

White-tailed kites are carnivores and feed mainly on rodents. Other prey items may include gophers, rats, mice, shrews, and rabbits. They may also consume birds, insects, lizards, snakes, and frogs.

Mating Habits

25-28 days
2 months
3-5 eggs

White-tailed kites are serially monogamous and form pair bonds that last during the breeding season. When the pair is formed, both the male and the female build a small nest at a treetop which they reuse year after year. The female lays 3 to 5 eggs and incubates them about 25 to 28 days; during this time the male provides her with food. The chicks are altricial; they hatch helpless and are covered in down. They fledge around 35 days later but will remain with their parents for another month more.


Population threats

The main threats to White-tailed kites include habitat loss, shooting, egg collection, and the use of pesticides.

Population number

According to the IUCN Red List, the total White-tailed kite population size is around 500,000-4,999,999 individuals. According to the All About Birds resource, the total population size of the species is 2 million birds. Overall, currently, White-tailed kites are classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and their numbers today are increasing.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • White-tailed kites have a gull-like coloration but in flight, these birds look like falcons.
  • Sometime later after eating their prey, White-tailed kites regurgitate pellets with fur, bones, and feathers which were not disgested.
  • White-tailed kites are able to hover in the air without beating their wings; this distinctive ability of kites is known as 'kiting'.
  • In order to attract a female, or to strengthen the pair bond, the male White-tailed kite will offer her an item of prey in a spectacular display. The female will fly up, turn upside-down, and then accept the prey in the midair.


1. White-Tailed Kite on Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White-tailed_kite
2. White-Tailed Kite on The IUCN Red List site - https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22695036/93486216

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