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Black Kite

Milvus migrans

black kite


Despite its name, the black kite is mostly brown in color, with the back typically much darker than the front. It has small, bead-like dark brown eyes and a large black, hook-shaped beak. This species is recognized for the yellow skin located on the top of the beak near the nostrils. The outer edge of the wings appears to be "fingered." The tail feathers are split, forming a v-shape. Black kites weigh about 19 ounces and are 18 to 24 inches long. Black kites exhibit slight sexual dimorphism in that females have a slightly larger body size than males, through they feature similar coloration. Juveniles are generally lighter in color and have shorter forked tails than adult black kites.

Distribution and Habitat

Black kites are found from the west coast of Central Europe to the east coast of Asia. They inhabit a broad range of habitats, but most are found in open areas where there is close access to water bodies such as rivers, ponds, or lakes. They also occur in woodlands, open savannas, and sometimes even in large cities.

Most black kites migrate to Africa during the winter, settling near the southern Sahara region.


Black kites will hunt for food, but more often act as scavengers. Their diet includes a variety of fish, reptiles, amphibians, and other small mammals and birds, as well as eggs stolen from other kites and even carrion.When hunting they catch and eat their prey by using their sharp talons. Prey is taken both on the ground and in flight.


Black kites are believed to be monogamous, having a single mate at a time and may even pair for life. They have a ritualized aerial courtship, which consists of extremely loud calls to one another. They also perform a display known as grappling, where they lock their feet together in mid-air and begin to spiral towards the ground. Ritual courtship behaviors typically begin in March and continue into August

Nest construction follows pair-formation in March, and egg laying occurs between April and May. Nests are located at heights of up to 100 feet, usually in a tree but occasionally on electrical poles or cliff edges. Black kites will often build their nests relatively close to other black kite pairs, and nests have also been known to be placed near other species of birds, including grey heron and cormorant rookeries. New nests are usually built each year, but they will sometimes occupy old nests built or abandoned by other black kites or other species. The nest itself consists of bulky sticks, arranged in layers, lined with many different kinds of soft materials, such as paper, feathers, plastic, feces or almost any other materials they can find. Both the male and female assist in the nest building process.

One to five eggs are laid per clutch. The eggs are typically off-white in color, decorated with brown, freckled spots. Incubation averages 32 days. After hatching, the young stay in the nest with the parents for 42 to 56 days, and are protected and cared for by both parents for an additional 15 to 56 days.

Sexual maturity is reached at about 2 years, and black kites can live up to 24 years in the wild.

Scientific Classification

Phylum Chordata
Subphylum Vertebrata
Class Aves
Order Falconiformes
Family Accipitridae
Genus & Species Milvus migrans

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This page was last updated on February 07, 2018.