The Black Kite (Milvus migrans), is a medium size bird of prey and considered to be one of the more abundant raptor species in the world. They are found throughout mainland Australia, and have been sighted in northern Tasmania, as well as some of the Bass Strait islands. From a distance they can often appear almost black, and with their angled wings and distinctive forked tail, they are quite easy to identify.
The plumage is dark brown, with a light brown bar on the shoulder, scattered light brown and rufous markings, on the head, neck and underparts. The Black Kite tail is forked, barred with darker brown, which gives the Black Kite it other common name of Fork-tailed Kite. The forked nature of the Black Kites tail is apparent when the tail is partly closed, being less obvious when the tail is widely open, with the fork being more shallow.
They have dark brown eyes and the bill is black with a yellow cere (this is the area of skin around the nostrils). Whilst both sexes are similar in appearance, the young Black Kites are usually lighter in colour compared to the adults, and have a shallower forked tail.
The Black Kite are seen in a variety of habitats, from forested water ways to open plains. Whilst they are seen in small groups, the Black Kite are known to form huge flocks of birds, especially when food is in plague numbers, such as locusts and grasshoppers. They can be seen soaring effortlessly in the sky, whilst searching for food below, or catching insects on the wing. They are also attracted to fires, with many to be seen wheeling above and around the smoke, keeping an eye ahead of the fire-front, as they pick off small prey that are fleeing the flames, or picking up the burnt remains of those that did not escape. The Black Kites are opportunistic hunters and are more likely to scavenge.
Images © Greg Sully
- Scientific classification
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Aves
- Order: Accipitriformes
- Family: Accipitridae
- Genus: Milvus
- Species: M. migrans
- Binomial name: Milvus migrans