As we drive along country roads, we often observe falcons in flight, in particular the Black Shouldered Kite (Elanus axillaris). Sometimes we pull over and stop to watch it as it hovers expertly, hunting for tasty morsels. This handsome and graceful raptor is the subject of our #32 Bird Photography Challenge.
What does it look like?
With a wingspan of 80 to 100cms, and measuring 35 to 38 cm, the Black Shouldered Kite is a small bird of prey. It is quite distinctive, with pale grey plumage above, a white head, body and tail and, as the name suggests, conspicuous black markings on its shoulders. These markings extend across part of its wings. When the bird is in flight you can see a black patch on the underside of each wing.
It has piercing eyes which have a black shadow above them, shaped like an eyebrow. The eyes are large, forward facing, with intense red-orange irises. This helps them to see in low light conditions, as they are crepuscular as well as diurnal, being active at dawn and dusk as well as during the day.
This kite has a black bill and yellow cere (the area of skin at the base of its bill and surrounding its nostrils). The feet and legs are yellow.
You will often see this small raptor hovering with feet dangling, in between quick shallow wing beats and glides.
How does it behave?
The Black Shouldered Kite feeds on rodents, the house mouse forming the main part of its diet. It often follows mouse plagues in agricultural areas. Occasionally it also feeds on insects such as grasshoppers and lizards. It likes to hunt early morning and late afternoon, often hovering with its wings raised high, before dropping feet first on its prey and snatching it with its talons.
Both male and female build the nest, a shallow cup of sticks which can sometimes be set up on man-made structures like power poles or else in a high tree.
Did you know?
During courtship, the male kite feeds the female in mid-air. She flips upside down and takes food with her feet from his while both are flying.
Where is it found?
Endemic to Australia, the Black-Shouldered Kite is a relatively common and widespread hawk found in grasslands, cleared farmlands, and along the roads throughout the country, except in the arid interior. The photos in the gallery were taken using the Canon 7Dii and the 100-400 lens, in country Victoria and at the Lake Borrie Wetlands.
Click on the first image in the gallery to display in full screen slide show.