The Black Kite (Milvus migrans) is a medium-sized bird of prey and mainly migratory. Black kites can be distinguished from red kites by the slightly smaller size, less forked tail (visible in flight), and generally dark plumage. The upper plumage is brown but the head and neck tend to be brighter in colour. The patch behind the eye appears darker. The outer flight feathers are black and the feathers have dark cross bars and are mottled at the base. The lower parts of the body are pale brown, becoming lighter towards the chin. The body feathers have dark shafts giving it a streaked appearance. The cere and gape are yellow, but the bill is black (unlike in the yellow-billed kite). The legs are yellow, and the claws are black. Their wingspan is around 150 cm (Whistler 1949).
Habitat and Ecology
This species is found almost ubiquitously throughout habitats. It inhabits semi-deserts, cultivated areas and fragmented woodland, preferring areas below 1,000 m with adjacent aquatic environments. In Europe, unlike elsewhere in its range, it generally avoids breeding in urban areas (Hagemeijer & Blair 1997). It arrives at its breeding grounds between February and May (Ferguson-Lees & Christie 2001) and can be loosely colonial or a solitary breeder. Eggs are laid between March and June. It normally nests in the fork or on the branch of a tree but will also use cliff ledges and man-made structures. Black Kites overwinter in sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia. Those at lower latitudes do not tend to be full migrants (del Hoyo et al. 1994).
These birds are extremely adaptable feeder. They food on carrion as well as live birds, mammals, fish, lizards, amphibians and invertebrates. It is even known to forage on vegetable matter such as palm oil fruits. Human refuse has become a plentiful food source in many areas (del Hoyo et al. 1994). They are opportunist hunters and have been known to take birds, bats (Mikila et al. 2016) and rodents (Meheretu & Leirs 2019; Narayanan 1989).
Population and Distribution
The European population is estimated at 81,200-109,000 pairs. The population in the EU27 is estimated at 47,500-52,900 pairs (IUCN, 2015). It is found in Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia.
The Current population trend and the continuing decline of mature individuals is unknown (IUCN 2015).
In Europe, the Black Kite population has declined through the twentieth century. The species has suffered, like many other raptor species, as a result of direct poisoning or shooting as well as indirect poisoning due to polluted water by agricultural pesticides (Orta et al. 2015). The poisoning with pesticides caused the species to go extinct in Israel in the 1950s (del Hoyo et al. 1994). The species is also vulnerable to habitat degradation, e.g. in ist West African range, where the loss of forest habitat due to wood harvesting and overgrazing of pastures has led to the species decline (Thiollay 2007). The expansion of wind energy may also pose a significant threat to the Black Kite due to collisions (Strix 2012). Collision and electrocution by powerlines also contribute to species mortality.
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Ferguson-Lees, J. and Christie, D.A. 2001. Raptors of the world. Christopher Helm, London.
Hagemeijer & Blair (1997). The EBCC Atlas of European breeding birds, their distribution and abundance. Poyser, London.
IUCN. 2015. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015.1. Available at: www.iucnredlist.org. (Accessed: 10.06.2020)
Meheretu Yonas; Leirs, H (2019). Raptor perch sites for biological control of agricultural pest rodents. In: Nyssen J., Jacob, M., Frankl, A. (Eds.). Geo-trekking in Ethiopia's Tropical Mountains - The Dogu'a Tembien District. SpringerNature. ISBN 978-3-030-04954-6
Mikula, Peter; Morelli, Federico; Lučan, Radek K.; Jones, Darryl N.; Tryjanowski, Piotr (2016). "Bats as prey of diurnal birds: A global perspective". Mammal Review. 46 (3): 160–174. doi:10.1111/mam.12060
Narayanan, E. (1989). "Pariah kite Milvus migrans capturing Whitebreasted Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 86 (3): 445.
Orta, J., Marks, J.S., Garcia, E.F.J. and Kirwan, G.M. (2015). Black Kite (Milvus migrans). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. and de Juana, E. (eds), Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive, Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
Strix (2012). Developing and testing the methodology for assessing and mapping the sensitivity of migratory birds to wind energy development. BirdLife International, Cambridge.
Thiollay, J.-M. (2007). Raptor population decline in West Africa. Ostrich 78(2): 405-413.
Whistler, H. (1949). Popular handbook of Indian birds (4th ed.). London: Gurney and Jackson. pp. 371–373. ISBN 978-1-4067-4576-4.