Kites are birds of prey from the Accipitridae family, which includes hawks, eagles, and buzzards. Researchers have divided kites into two categories: hovering and soaring. The Elaninae subfamily contains hovering kites, and the Milvinae subfamily consists of soaring kites. Discover five soaring types of kite birds and learn about their habitats, locations, and behaviors.
1.) Hook-Billed Kite
If you see a raptor with a parrot’s bill soaring high in the sky, it may be the hook-billed kite. This bird lives in the Americas, as far north as the Rio Grande and as far south as Paraguay and Argentina. They are permanent residents throughout their Latin American range, but they may be slightly nomadic, moving short distances with the seasons. Hooked-billed kites prefer to live along wooded streams and lowland rainforests, but you can also find them in dry coastal forests and temperate zones in the Andes. They have a small range in Southern Texas, staying near the Rio Grande River and perching in mesquite.
Hooked-billed kites primarily eat tree snails and will move to areas with abundant snail populations. They jump around tree limbs under the canopy and use their deeply hooked bills to crack open their shells. Other than their parrot-like beaks, you can identify hook-billed kites by their very broad, rounded wings and dark plumage with white banding.
2.) Mississippi Kite
Mississippi kites are sleek hunters who spend much of their time in the air. These birds are long-distance migrants, breeding in the Southeastern and Southwestern United States and migrating through Mexico and Central America before reaching their wintering grounds in Central South America. East of the Mississippi River, they breed in mature low-lying forests. But in the Southwest, they nest in prairies and mesquite savannas. They use many diverse habitats during migration, but we do not have enough research on their wintering grounds.
The Mississippi kite soars over woodlands, open water, and prairies, searching for its meal. They eat large insects, frogs, lizards, turtles, small birds, bats, and other small mammals. These acrobats grab their prey with their feet and consume it mid-air! You can identify these raptors by their slender frames and long, pointed wings. Their plumage is a mix of gray and black, with lighter heads and darker wings, and gorgeous dark eyes stand out from their pale grey face.
3.) Snail Kite
The snail kite has a strongly curved bill that appears more delicate than the beak of the hook-billed kite. They have broad wings, triangular-shaped tails, dark gray plumage, and black tails with white bars at the base. These birds live in freshwater marshes, lakes, ponds, and wet prairies. They need open, clear water, so tend to avoid murky areas with dense aquatic vegetation.
Aptly named, these birds feed almost exclusively on freshwater apple snails. They forage by slowly flying over shallow, open water, before seizing the snails with their talons. They use their hooked beaks to extract the meat from the shell. The snail kite is nonmigratory, living year-round in Florida, the West Indies, Mexico, Central America, and South America.
4.) Whistling Kite
The whistling kite is a medium-sized raptor native to Australia, New Guinea, and New Caledonia. They inhabit open and lightly wooded areas near water, wandering to coastal regions during the dry season. Their name comes from their loud whistling calls, which they emit during flight and while perched. This noisy species makes a ruckus, even while in their nest.
These birds are not picky eaters and will consume whatever is available. Their diet primarily consists of small mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians, crustaceans, insects, and carrion. They are scrappy birds who will take food from the ground, water, and air. They will even steal another bird’s meal! During winter, they scavenge for dead animals by roadsides.
5.) Red Kite
The red kite is a large, elegant species with rufous-colored bodies and black and white wings. They are native to Europe and Northwest Africa, where they inhabit woodlands, wetland edges, and valleys. They are migratory birds, with the northernmost populations in Europe moving to Southern Europe and Africa during winter. Their diet is similar to that of the whistling kites. They eat small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and a wide variety of carrion. Also like their fellow kite cousins, they will steal food from other birds and even take food and trash from humans.
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