I want to thank ‘L’ for asking if I would share parts of that amazing book Australian Birds of Prey by Penny Olsen. I am so happy to do this! We can all learn together.
There are 24 species of raptors at the time the book was written in Australia, 1995. I know that many of you are familiar with the Eastern Osprey and the Peregrine Falcon so I want to start with some gorgeous raptors that you might not know. My plan is to introduce 1 or, at the most, 2 species a week. Our first is the Black-shouldered Kite. The scientific name is Elanus axillaris. Just look at that lovely bird. She is simply gorgeous.
The Black-Shouldered Kite is easily identified by the black patch on their wing. There is also a small black underwing patch. This is a small to medium bird with a gorgeous white head, body, and tail. The shoulders are black as is the beak. The back and upper wings are mostly a very pale grey. The eyes are a captivating red! The cere is a brilliant yellow as are the legs and talon.
The female is 36 cm and the male 35 cm in length. The female weighs approximately 300 grams with the male weighing 260 grams when fully grown. As you can see, the female is slightly larger than the male which is known as Reverse Sex Dimorphism.
The Black-shouldered Kite has two front toes and two in the back (as opposed to three forward and one back). The wingspan is 80-100 cm.
In terms of its habitat, the Black Shouldered Kite prefers open grasslands, woodlands, and croplands in lower altitude areas that are within the tropical or temperate climate zones. At the time the book was written the population numbers were climbing.
The birds prefer rodents as their first choice of prey while their second is insects. The Black Shouldered Kite tends to breed when prey numbers are higher. They raise one clutch per year normally between May-November. Clutch sizes vary between 2 and 5 with the majority being 3 or 4 eggs. In a poor year with little or no food, it is expected that Black Shoulder Kites would have a much smaller clutch or lay no eggs at all. Eggs are on average 4.2 cm. This can be compared to an Osprey whose eggs are, on average 6.1 cm long. Eggs are incubated for 31 days with chicks fledging at 5 weeks. The chicks will have their adult plumage in one year, after their first moult.
The image below is a juvenile. Notice the rusty brown wash on its head and shoulder. What a beauty. Even though this chick is waiting for food, at 5 weeks it is fully capable and does hunt mice.
As we know, raptors adapt and below the kite is eating a lizard.
Oh, what a beautiful bird! I hope that you have enjoyed learning about one of the raptors that live in Australia (and other parts of Asia). Like every species of bird, the protection of their habitat (and keeping it from fragmenting into small patches) is important to the continuing health of the Black Shoulder Kite. Other threats are egg collectors (yes, they still exist), pesticides, rodenticides, and electrocution on power lines.
Thank you so much for joining me today. Take care. See you soon!