White-Tailed Kite

(Elanus leucurus)

White-tailed Kites feed almost exclusively on rodents and can be seen at heights up to 80 feet above, facing into the wind, and hovering over prey below before dropping to ambush their meal. This behavior of being able to hold a stationary position in the air without flapping is known as "kiting". Due to shooting and egg collection in the 1930s/40s the White-tailed Kite population dropped to numbers that almost led to extinction. Land development and modern farming techniques also removed nesting trees and cover vegetation for its main prey item the vole. Conservation efforts have helped them make a come back today although their distribution is still patchy. The California Department of Fish and Game set aside grazed pastures in northern CA which help support about 10 times the number of raptors today, including White-tailed Kites. It is thought that the introduction of the house mouse from Europe may also have played a part in helping increase their numbers. The species is somewhat rare in the Rocklin location -- sightings by the author have been mostly in late Oct to Nov (also in Jan 2015) when they seem to be passing through the area alone or in small groups.

Length: 12.6 to 15 inches

Weight: 10.6 to 12.7 oz

Lifespan: The oldest recorded White-tailed Kite was at least 6 years old when it was found in California.

Diet consists of mostly mammals. Studies have shown 95% of prey items captured were small mammals. Rarely eats some birds, lizards, and insects.
Whether the White-tailed Kite is migratory, nomadic, or both is not yet understood. Wanders widely.

The nest site is chosen by both the male and female and found in a tree anywhere from 20 to 50 feet up. The female may build the nest by herself or both male & female build it together. The nest is ~ 21 inches across with center cup 7 inches wide by 4 inches deep. Nest is constructed of a twig platform and lined with grasses or weeds.

Clutch size = 3 to 6 (typically 4) white eggs with dark brown spots. One brood per year.

Incubation = 30 to 32 days. At hatch chicks are covered in tan or yellowish down and weigh ~ 0.6 oz. The female will brood chicks while they are small while the male hunts for and delivers food that the female in turn feeds to the chicks. When the chicks are older, the adults drop prey into nest and the chicks feed themselves.

Fledging = 38 to 35 days. Offspring may return to the nest to sleep or to be fed for some time after fledging.


  1. "White-tailed Kite, Life History". All about birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Retrieved October, 2016.
  2. "White-tailed Kite". Audubon Guide to North American Birds. Retrieved October, 2016.
  3. "White-tailed Kite". Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved October, 2016.