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White-tailed Kite

Elanus leucurus

Length: 16 inches Wingspan: 40 inches Seasonality: Extremely rare visitor
ID Keys: White underparts and head, gray above with black shoulder

White-tailed Kite - Elanus leucurusOnce considered endangered in North America, the White-tailed Kite has greatly expanded in numbers and range since the 1930s.  They are heavily dependent upon large populations of small rodents such as mice and voles, and probably have benefited greatly from the introduction of the House Mouse to North America.  Previously known as the Black-shouldered Kite.

Habitat: Prefers open habitats with perches for hunting, and with suitable nesting sites. This includes marshes and wetlands, farmland, grassland, and prairie.  

Diet: Primarily feeds on small rodents, especially mice and voles.  Will also eat other small mammals, birds, and occasionally snakes, lizards, frogs, and large insects.

Behavior: Hunts in flight, hovering to spot prey, and then diving to catch it. 

Breeding: Non-breeder in South Dakota

Song: White-tailed Kite (pair of breeding adults), White-tailed Kite "Whistle-croak" call

Migration: Generally a permanent resident throughout its normal range, but individuals can wander widely.

Interactive eBird map: Click here to access an interactive eBird map of White-tailed Kite sightings

Similar Species:  Mississippi Kite

Conservation Status: Has increased in numbers and range since the early 20th century, when it was persecuted needlessly by farmers who thought it threatened their poultry.  Now found in areas it wasn't known historically.

Further Information: 1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, White-tailed Kite

2) Cornell Lab of Ornithology - White-tailed Kite

3) - White-tailed Kite

Photo Information: Out-of-state photo, courtesy of Daniella Theoret.


Click on the range map for a higher-resolution view 
White-tailed Kite - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Accidental, with only a handful of records in the state.