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Australian Kite
Elanus axillaris

Status: Lower risk

Population Trend: Increasing.

Other Names: Australian Black-shouldered Kite, Black-winged Kite, Elanus notatus.

Elanus axillaris
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Distribution: Australasian. Endemic to AUSTRALIA, including TASMANIA. more....

Subspecies: Monotypic.

Taxonomy: Forms a superspecies with E. leucurus and E. caeruleus, and all three have sometimes been considered conspecific (Parkes 1958, Mees 1982). However, Clark and Banks (1992) provided convincing morphological evidence that they are separate species, and this view has been adopted by subsequent authors. Formerly called E. notatus, but that name was not clearly applied to this species (Debus 1994). Griffiths et al. (2007) showed that Gampsonyx 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: Irruptive or local migrant (Bildstein 2006). Juveniles disperse widely, sometimes up to 1,000 km (Debus 1998). Marchant and Higgins (1993) stated tht this species tends to be resident in higher rainfall coastal lowlands, but irruptive in more arid parts of its range. Gosper (2007) detected seasonal movements into the Richmond River District, New South Wales, with fewer birds being present in summer, but they were irregular and varied from year to year. more....

Habitat and Habits: Occurs in open country, particularly grasslands, wetter savannas, croplands, and open woodlands with tall grass. Often hovers in one spot like other kites of this genus, or soars with wings raised in a dihedryl (Olsen 1995). It also perches on the dead upper branches of a tree, or on a power pole, where it may still-hunt, dropping to capture prey on the ground. Solitary, or sometimes gregarious, this species is diurnal and crepuscular, and occasionally nocturnal on moonlit nights (Debus 1998). Roosts communally, like other Elanus species.

Food and Feeding Behavior: Feeds mostly on small rodents, particularly the introduced House Mouse, but occasionally takes small birds, lizards, and insects (Debus 1998, Mathieson et al. 1997). more....

Breeding: Nests solitarily or in loose colonies when prey is abundant (Debus 1998). The nest is a platform of sticks, lined with green leaves, and placed 4-35 m above the ground in the canopy of a live tree, or, rarely, on an artificial structure (Debus op cit.). Clutch size is usually 3 or 4 eggs, but ranges from 2 to 5. The female performs most of the care of eggs and nestlings, although the male performs a minor share of incubation and brooding, and the male captures the prey (Debus et al. 2006). The incubation period is about 31 days, and the nestling period is 36 (33-38) days, with juveniles remaining dependent upon their parents for 36 days in one instance (Debus et al. op cit.). more....

Conservation: Widespread and common throughout most of its range (Olsen 1995, Debus 1998). Categorized as a species of "Least Concern" by BirdLife International. more....

Important References: 
Barnes, T. 2005. Foraging, habitat use, and nesting of the
  Black-shouldered Kite Elanus axillaris in the Australian
  Capital Territory. Australian Field Ornithology 22:58-66.
Debus, S.J.S. 1994. Australian Black-shouldered Kite. Pp. 115 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.
Debus, S. 1998. The birds of prey of Australia: a field guide. Oxford
  University Press, Melbourne.
Debus, S.J., G.S. Olde, N. Marshall, J. Meyer, and A.B. Rose. 2006.
  Foraging, breeding behaviour and diet of a family of Black-shouldered Kites
  Elanus axillaris near Tamworth, New South Wales. Australian Field
  Ornithology 23:130-143.
Engel, D., and A.B. Rose. 1997. Diet of the Black-shouldered Kite Elanus
in New South Wales. Australian Bird Watcher 17:211-213.
Ferguson-Lees, J., and D.A. Christie. 2001. Raptors of the world. Houghton
  Mifflin, Boston, MA.
Griffiths, C.S., G.F. Barrowclough, J.G. Groth, and L.A. Mertz. 2007.
  Phylogeny, diversity, and classification of the Accipitridae based on DNA
  sequences of the RAG-1 exon. Journal of Avian Biology 38:587-602.
Marchant, S., and P. Higgins (eds.). Handbook of Australian, New Zealand,
  and Antarctic birds. Vol. 2. Raptors to lapwings. Oxford University Press,
  Melbourne, Australia.
Mathieson, M.T., S.J.S. Debus, A.B. Rose, P.J. McConnell, and K.M. Watson.
  1997. Breeding diet of the Letter-winged Kite Elanus scriptus and
  Black-shouldered Kite E. axillaris during a House Mouse plague.
  Sunbird 27:65-71.
Olsen, P. 1995. Australian birds of prey. John Hopkins University Press,
  Baltimore, MD.
Read, D.G. 2005. Observations on parent/young behaviour in a pair of
  Black-shouldered Kites Elanus axillaris. Australian Field
  Ornithology 22:109-121.
Wink, M., and H. Sauer-Gürth. 2004. Phylogenetic relationships in diurnal
  raptors based on nucleotide sequences of mitochondrial and nuclear marker
  genes. Pp. 483-498 in R.D. Chancellor and B.-U. Meyburg (eds.), Raptors
  worldwide. World Working Group on Birds of Prey, Berlin, and MME/BirdLife
  Hungary, Budapest.

Debus, Stephen
Gregory, Tim

Last modified: 10/31/2009

Recommended Citation: Global Raptor Information Network. 2015. Species account: Australian Kite Elanus axillaris. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 25 Jan. 2015

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