Named for its loud and penetrating whistling call which prompts you to look up, the Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus) is a distinctive bird of prey, and is the subject of our #46 Bird Photography Challenge.
What does it look like?
A medium size raptor, with a wing span of 120 to 145 cm, it ranges in size from 50 to 60 cm. Adult birds are a pale buff on the head, breast and tail, which are scalloped grey brown. They have brown wings and black flight feathers. They have a bit of a scruffy look, particularly on their head and belly. The legs and feet are unfeathered, and bone coloured. The head is small and narrow, compared to the body, and the tail is long and rounded, with wing tips falling well short of the tail when the kite is perched. The underwings have a characteristic pale M shape when open. Juvenile birds have a speckled look.
Whistling kites soar with slightly bowed wings, with their long tail feathers often well splayed, and widely fingered wingtips, as shown in the image here.
How does it behave?
The Whistling Kite soars above the ground, trees and water in uphazard circles in search of prey such as carrion and small live animals like small rodents, reptiles and fish, and even insects. Most food items are taken from the ground or the water surface. Being a scavenger and eating any kind of carrion makes it an adaptable bird during drought periods when food is scarce.
They are monogamous birds. Their bulky nest is a platform of sticks in a tall tree, lined with fresh green leaves, and can often be re-used, year after year, growing bigger over time. Both sexes build the nest and incubate the eggs.
Did you know?
Whistling Kites can behave like pirates, stealing meals from herons and ibises, and from other birds of prey. They can even force large water birds to regurgitate their catches.
Where is it found?
The Whistling Kite is widespread in mainland Australia, and more common in the north than the southern regions. It is uncommon in Tasmania. It is found in woodlands, open country and particularly near swamps, but needs tall trees to nest in.
The images in the gallery were taken at the Lake Borrie Wetland, Western Treatment Plant, with the old Canon 60d and EF 100-400mm lens, hand-held.
Click on any image in the gallery to display in full screen.
9 thoughts on “Bird Photography Challenge #46: Whistling Kite”
Stunning, like all raptors. Have you guys soared with them on your southern coastal cliffs?
Not with a kite but with a wedgie!
Yes love their cry, heaps in the NT. Great shots
Yes we remember them there too. These were in Victoria. Thanks Sue!
I used to love watching them around the brush fires out bush in the NT that burn uncontrolled all dry season. Hundreds of Kite’s circling the hot air thermals created by the fire, swooping down to pick off the displaced lizards and critters. Spectacular.
It would have been! There seem to be more whistling kites up north. We love watching them. Very adept hunters and flyers.
What a beauty 🙂 Very similar in appearance to our red kites but those markings on the top of the wings are very striking!!
Hi Sarah – yes the top markings are beautifully defined, and the underwings distinctive, yet the belly of this kite is quite scruffy!
They often look a bit scruffy underneath! I think that’s down to the areas they’re getting food from. They’re mostly scavengers. I often see them around the local landfill sites.