Sunday, June 17, 2012

White-tailed Kite

In the United States, White-tailed Kites are found in southernmost Florida, southeastern Texas and the West Coast. Strays occasionally occur as far north as South Dakota, Minnesota, and New England. This raptor is also found from Mexico south through Central and South America. Our populations were nearly extinct in the early 1900s. Numbers recovered after that but once again declined since 1980. Although this kite inhabits open grasslands, grassland conversion to agriculture and, surprisingly, the cutting of nest trees causes threats to its success. Furthermore, this kite prefers areas with sparse human habitation. Some population numbers fluctuate, but ornithologists do not know if the species is migratory, nomadic, or both (Dunk 1995).

The systematics of this kite are also confusing. Until relatively recently White-tailed Kites were considered to be the same species as the Black-shouldered Kite, found across much of the Old World. The American Ornithologists' Union, despite many similarities, recognized the two as separate species in 1993. Currently White-tailed Kites in South America are thought to be only racially distinct from larger North American birds. Two other similar kites are found in Australia and are classified as distinct species. Dunk (1995) warns that "until biochemical analyses are conducted on [these] kites, the taxonomy will likely remain in flux."

Erika and I saw but one White-tailed Kite during our March Texas visit. The bird obligingly waited for us to do a U-turn along a south Texas highway, jump out of the car, and take this photograph. Several years ago, we saw a White-tailed Kite in the California's Napa Valley, but never got close enough for a picture.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful birds. I saw one in Berkeley last year, and it made my list of birding highlights of the year.