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Black Kite
Milvus migrans

Status: Lower risk

Population Trend: Stable.

Other Names: Allied Kite, Black-eared Kite (lineatus), Common Kite, Dark Kite, Eared Kite (lineatus), Egyptian Kite (aegyptius), Fork-tailed Kite (affinis), Large Indian Kite (lineatus), Pariah Kite (govinda), Siberian Black Kite (melanotis), Small Indian Kite (govinda), Yellow-billed Kite (aegyptius).

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Milvus migrans
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Distribution: Afrotropical/Australasian/Indomalayan/Palearctic. Breeds through most of temperate and subarctic Eurasia, northern Africa, and southwestern Arabia east throughout the Indian subcontinent to CHINA, KOREA, JAPAN, and TAIWAN south through Southeast Asia, Malay Peninsula, SUMATRA, BORNEO, WALLACEA, eastern NEW GUINEA, and AUSTRALIA; most northern populations migrate, wintering in Africa, Southeast Asia, Malay Peninsula, and SUMATRA. more....

Subspecies: 6 races. M. m. aegyptius: EGYPT, southwestern Arabia, coastal East Africa, and possibly further southward; M.m. affinis: SULAWESI, LESSER SUNDAS, eastern NEW GUINEA, NEW BRITAIN, and northern AUSTRALIA; M. m. formosanus: TAIWAN and South CHINA (Hainan); M. m. govinda: Eastern PAKISTAN through INDIA and SRI LANKA south through Malay Peninsula; M. m. lineatus: SIBERIA to Amurland and JAPAN south to northern INDIA, northern BURMA, northern CHINA, and RYUKYU ISLANDS; M. m. migrans: Europe and northwestern Africa east to central Asia south to PAKISTAN; winters in Africa south of the Sahara. more....

Taxonomy: Within the Accipitridae, the genera Milvus and Haliaeetus (sea eagles) cluster together (Wink 1995, Wink et al. 1996) and are in a clade with Buteo and Accipiter (Wink and Seibold 1995). On the basis of syringeal morphology, Griffiths (1994) concluded that Milvus and Haliastur are sister taxa. This species hybridizes with M. milvus (e.g., Wobus and Creutz 1970, Schmidt and Schmidt 2006). Orta (1994) and Stresemann and Amadon (1979) maintained the yellow-billed African breeding populations, aegyptius and parasitus (including tenebrosus) as a part of M. migrans, although other recent authors have treated them as a single separate species (Sibley and Monroe 1993). Based on molecular studies of mitochondrial genes, Wink and Sauer-Gürth (2000) and Johnson et al. (2005) confirmed that at least the resident populations from South Africa and Madagascar should be regarded as a separate species, M. parasitus. Despite its yellow bill, the race aegyptius is tentatively included as a subspecies here, pending further study, but it is probably more closely related to M. parasitus. The Asian form lineatus may also be a specifically distinct (Amadon and Bull 1988, Sibley and Monroe 1990), although it hybridizes with the nominate race at the eastern edge of the latter's range, according to Vaurie (1965). more....

Movements: Partial migrant; some populations are long distance, trans-equatorial migrants (Bildstein 2006). Most birds breeding north of the Middle East and the Sahara are migratory, and there are three main flyways utilized between central Europe and Africa, according to Schifferli (1967). The majority of western European birds use the "Western European-West African Flyway," a 5,000-km overland system of corridors stretching from Scandinavia to West Africa, and they are drawn mostly from breeding populations in Spain, France, and Germany (Scheider et al. 2004, Bildstein and Zalles 2005, Bensusan et al. 2007). Black Kites are also one of the most common species on the "Eurasian-East African Flyway," stretching from eastern Scandinavia and western Siberia through the Middle East and East Africa into southern Africa (Bildstein and Zalles op cit.). Scheider et al. (2004) stated that the winter range of the Asian race, lineatus, is not known, but an intense migration has been observed in Kazakhstan. Black Kites are very nomadic in Australia, where populations ebb and flow with the season and the food supply (Olsen 1995). more....

Habitat and Habits: Occurs in a wide array of habitats, but in its breeding range, it favors mature forests, riparian forest, open woodlands, forest edges, grasslands, savannas, and areas of human settlements, often near water. In Bhutan, the race govinda is common in towns and villages, while lineatus is more of a montane bird (Spierenburg 2005). In Morocco, densely wooded areas and steppes and coastal areas with cliffs (for nesting) are favored (Thévenot et al. 2003) and in Australia, it soars over open plains and timbered watercourses of semi-arid and arid areas and congregates in flocks sometimes numbering thousands of birds at abattoirs and stockyards (Olsen 1995). In New Guinea, it occurs mostly in grasslands, paddocks, airfields, savannas, sewage ponds, harbors, and coastal waters (Coates 1985). Elsewhere, it occurs singly, or, more often, in nomadic groups. more....

Food and Feeding Behavior: Very opportunistic feeder, especially prone to feeding on road kills (including other kites), dead fish along shorelines, and visiting trash dumps and stockyards. Also feeds on young, sick or injured birds, small mammals, frogs, lizards, and insects. Frequently hunts in flocks and may pirate prey from other raptor species and from each other. This species congregates at termite emergences and grassland fires on its wintering range in southern Africa and the Malay Peninsula. When foraging, birds fly slowly, constantly changing directions and searching the ground for potential prey (Adamian and Klem 1999). When prey is spotted, the bird folds it wings, dives, and stretches the feet to grasp the prey, which is carried in the talons. more....

Breeding: Often nests in loose colonies, but sometimes solitarily. Typically nests in trees, including conifers, but also on cliffs, and even electricity pylons (Herklots 1967, Gatter 1997, Thévenot et al. 2003), and the old nests of other species may also be used (Kren 2000). A new nest is usually built annually (Adamian and Klem 1999). The stick nest is lined with dry vegetation, rags, wool, fur, dung, soil, scraps of paper, and other rubbish and placed 2-30 m above the ground in a tree canopy. Clutch size is usually 2 or 3 eggs, sometimes 1 and rarely 4 or 5, and the eggs are dull white with brown or violet spots. Incubation begins with the first egg and lasts 28-30 days in Israel (Shirihai 1996), 30 days in Armenia (Adamian and Klem 1999), and about 31 days in Australia (Debus 1998). The nestling period is 42-48 days in Israel (Shirihai 1996) and 37-44 days in Australia, where fledged young are dependent on the parents for about two months (Debus op cit.). more....

Conservation: Probably the most common diurnal raptor in the world, especially if both of the yellow-billed forms are included (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). It is vulnerable to poisoning in southern Africa, but populations may have increased there over recent decades as the result of expanding human populations producing more trash and offal. Its European breeding population declined substantially between 1970 and 1990 and further between 1990-2000 (BirdLife International 2004). Categorized as "Rare" for Europe, but as a species of "Least Concern" globally by BirdLife International. more....

Population Estimates: The European population was estimated at 72,000-98,000 breeding pairs (BirdLife International/European Bird Census Council 2000) and 64,000-100,000 breeding pairs (BirdLife International 2004). more....

Important References: 
BirdLife International/European Bird Census Council. 2000. European bird
  populations: estimates and trends. BirdLife Conservation Series no. 10.
  BirdLife International,Cambridge, UK.
Ferguson-Lees, J., and D.A. Christie. 2001. Raptors of the world. Houghton
  Mifflin, Boston, MA.
Marchant, S., and P. Higgins (eds.). Handbook of Australian, New Zealand,
  and Antarctic birds. Vol. 2. Raptors to lapwings. Oxford University Press,
  Melbourne, Australia.
Mendelsohn, J.M. 1997. Black Kite. Pp. 168-169 in J.A. Harrison (eds.),
  The atlas of South African birds. Volume 1: Non-passerines. BirdLife South
  Africa and Avian Demography Unit, Johannesburg, South Africa.
Orta, J. 1994. Black Kite. Pp. 118-119 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.
Ortlieb, R. 1998. [The Black Kite]. Neue Brehm-Bücherei no. 100. Westarp
  Wissenschaften, Hohenwarsleben, Germany. (In German)
Walz, J. 2005. Rot- und Schwarzmilan: flexible Jäger mit Hang zur
  Geselligkeit. AULA-Verlag, Wiebelsheim, Germany.

Sites of Interest:
Hong Kong Black Kite
A listserver devoted to the Black Kite.
Species account, with an emphasis on European populations.
Black Kite photos.

Agostini, Nicolantonio
Balakrishnan, Peroth
Fiuczynski, Klaus Dietrich
Gercken, Marian
Gregory, Tim
Hui, Etta
Johnson, Jeff A.
Karmacharya, Dikpal Krishna
Meyburg, Bernd-U.
Mindell, David
Panuccio, Michele
Rangasamy, Dhanapal
Rondeau, Guy
Schröpfer, Libor
Sergio, Fabrizio
Sharma, Manoj
Soni, Hiren

Last modified: 11/3/2010

Recommended Citation: Global Raptor Information Network. 2022. Species account: Black Kite Milvus migrans. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 21 May. 2022

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