White-tailed Kite

by Sarah Kishler

The White-tailed kite (Elanus leucurus), sometimes called simply the white hawk, is the only North American kite that hovers while hunting. It will let its tail and legs dangle in the air as it surveys the land for its food, which consists mostly of small rodents, particularly the California vole, but also includes reptiles, birds, and insects. Like a gull, the white-tailed kite can glide for remarkably long distances and soar to very impressive heights.

White-tailed kites have orange eyes, a black bill, light gray upper-parts, white under-parts, yellow feet, and a long white tail. They are monogamous and build nests close to other pairs. The male hunts for the family and fights off crows, hawks, and other competitors. When the male returns to the nest with the food, both parents will feed the chicks.

Once abundant throughout California, the 1930s saw White-tailed kites headed for extinction, due to such factors as the loss of their natural habitat and being shot. The raptors made quite a comeback in the latter half of the 20th century, as they were made protected from shooting and there was a rise in agricultural development, thus providing the White-tailed kite with a greater supply of its rodent prey

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