Birds Of Southern California

White-tailed Kite (Elanus leucurus)

The White-tailed Kite (Elanus leucurus) is an elanid kite of genus Elanus found in western North America and parts of South America. Their coloration is gull-like, but their shape and flight falcon-like, with a rounded tail. Mainly white underneath, they have black wingtips and shoulders. A mid-sized kite, it measures 35–43 cm (14–17 in) in length, spans 88–102 cm (35–40 in) across the wings and weighs 250–380 g (8.8–13.4 oz). Both the wings, at 29–32.8 cm (11.4–12.9 in) each, and the tail, at 15.1–18.6 cm (5.9–7.3 in), are relatively elongated. The tarsus measures around 3.6 cm (1.4 in). For some recent decades, it united with the Black-winged Kite of Europe and Africa in Elanus caeruleus, and collectively called Black-shouldered Kite. More recently it was argued that the White-tailed Kite differed from the Old World species in size, shape, plumage, and behavior, and that these differences were sufficient to warrant specific status. This argument was accepted by the American Ornithologists' Union, so the White-tailed Kite has its original name back. Meanwhile, the Old World E. caeruleus is again called Black-winged Kite, while the name Black-shouldered Kite is now reserved for an Australian species, Elanus axillaris, which had also been lumped into E. caeruleus but now regarded as separate again. The White-tailed Kite was rendered almost extinct in California in the 1930s and 1940s by shooting and egg-collecting, but they are now common again. Their distribution is patchy, however – they can be seen in the Central Valley and southern coastal areas, open land around Goleta including the Ellwood Mesa Open Space, marshes in Humboldt County, and also around the San Francisco Bay, but elsewhere they are still rare or absent. They are also found in southern Texas, on the Baja California peninsula, and in eastern Mexico, and on a global scale they are not considered threatened species by the IUCN. On rare occasions the bird can be found far afield. At different times, two had been sighted in New England as of 2010. White-tailed Kites feed principally on rodents, and they are readily seen patrolling or hovering over lowland scrub or grassland. They rarely if ever eat other birds, and even in open cerrado, mixed-species feeding flocks will generally ignore them. Outside the breeding season they roost communally in groups of up to 100.