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White-tailed Kite
Elanus leucurus

Status: Lower risk

Population Trend: Increasing.

Other Names: American Black-shouldered Kite, North American White-tailed Kite (majusculus).

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Elanus leucurus
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Distribution: Nearctic/Neotropical.. Southern UNITED STATES south through Middle America to eastern PANAMA, west of the Andes to northwestern ECUADOR and east to SURINAME; southern BOLIVIA and central and eastern BRAZIL south to central ARGENTINA and central CHILE; absent from most of Amazonia and northeastern BRAZIL and from higher elevations throughout. more....

Subspecies: 2 races. E. l. majusculus: Western and southern UNITED STATES (southwestern Washington, Kansas, South Carolina to Florida) south through MEXICO and most of Central America to western PANAMA; E. l. leucurus: Central PANAMA west of the Andes to northwestern ECUADOR and east of the Andes to eastern BOLIVIA, CHILE (Valdivia), URUGUAY, and central ARGENTINA (Buenos Aires, Mendoza); TRINIDAD.

Taxonomy: Forms a superspecies with E. caeruleus and E. axillaris (Stresemann and Amadon 1979). Temporarily merged with the Old World E. caeruleus (AOU 1983), based on the recommendations of Parkes (1958), but compelling arguments to the contrary were made by Amadon and Bull (1988), and Clark and Banks (1992), resulting in its subsequent treatment as a separate species by the AOU (1998). Griffiths et al. (2007) showed that and Elanus are sister taxa. Their results, and those of Wink and Sauer-Gürth (2004) and Lerner and Mindell (2005), showed that the genus Elanus is basal to all other Accipitridae and that it might even form a separate family.

Movements: Presumed to be resident throughout its range in a general sense, but it is frequently nomadic, or even irruptive, with movements occurring in response to rodent cycles, and individuals of this species frequently turn up beyond the periphery of the usual range. Bildstein (2006) categorized it as a partial migrant, and birds breeding in central Argentina are thought to migrate northward in the non-breeding season (Ortiz and Capllonch 2007). more....

Habitat and Habits: Occurs in lowlands (mostly) and middle elevations, frequenting open savannas, pastures, grassland, marshes, and agricultural areas with scattered trees, where it perches on the tops of trees or on powerlines. Also frequents the right-of-ways or medians of roadways. Slightly crepuscular (Fjeldså and Krabbe 1990). Generally solitary, or in pairs, but communal winter roosts are also not uncommon (e.g., Clark and Wheeler 1989). more....

Food and Feeding Behavior: Feeds mainly on small mammals, lizards, and insects, and takes birds only rarely. Often hunts by flying slowly at heights of 8-20 m, or hovering against the wind, then dropping slowly to the ground with wings stretched upward and feet dangling to seize prey. more....

Breeding: Builds a cup-shaped stick nest, lined with finer material, and placed in the crown of a small or intermediate-sized isolated tree or shrub.  Clutch size is 3-5 eggs, which are white, and heavily marked with brownish sp[ots and blotches. In one Argentine nest, the incubation period was 31 days (Di Giacomo 2005). more....

Conservation: The range of this species has expanded dramatically in North America and Central America within the last 50-60 years (Eisenmann 1971, Larson 1980, Pruett-Jones et al. 1980). The reasons for this sudden expansion are not entirely clear, but may be related to an increase in the amount of suitable open habitat, reduced human persecution, and aspects of the life history of the species which promote rapid population growth (Eisenmann op cit.), or to fluctuations in prey abundance (Pruett-Jones op cit.). The White-tailed Kite is now fairly common to common in most areas, and its range is still expanding on the margins in many tropical areas as forests are replaced by agricultural habitats. However, populations in California and perhaps other parts of the United States have suffered recent declines for reasons that are not yet clear. Categorized as a species of "Least Concern" by BirdLife International. more....

Important References: 
Bent, A.C. 1937. Life histories of North American birds of prey. Order
  Falconiformes (Part 1). U.S. National Museum Bulletin 167.
Bierregaard, R.O. 1994. White-tailed Kite. Pp. 115-116 in del Hoyo, J., A.
  Elliott, and J. Sargatal (eds). Handbook of birds of the world. Vol. 2. New
  World vultures to guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.
Dunk, J.R. 1995. White-tailed Kite Elanus leucurus. In A. Poole and F.
  Gill (eds.), The Birds of North America no. 178. Academy of Natural
  Sciences, Philadelphia, PA.
Eisenmann, E. 1971. Range expansion and population increase in North and
  Middle America of the White-tailed Kite Elanus leucurus. American Birds
Pruett-Jones, S.G., M.A. Pruett-Jones, and R.L. Knight. 1980. The
  White-tailed Kite in North and Middle America: current status
  and recent population changes. American Birds 34:682-688.

Sites of Interest:
White-tailed Kite photos.
Aves de Rapina do Brasil
Species account, with emphasis on Brazil.

Fry, Michael
Galmes, Maximiliano Adrián
Jaksic, Fabián
Leveau, Lucas
Liébana, María Soledad
Marin, Manuel
Naveda-Rodriguez, Adrian
Olivo Quiroga, Cristian E.

Last modified: 4/24/2011

Recommended Citation: Global Raptor Information Network. 2020. Species account: White-tailed Kite Elanus leucurus. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 6 Jul. 2020

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