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White-tailed Kite
Elanus leucurus
– Family
Authors: Dunk, Jeffrey R.

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Immature White-tailed Kite, California
Adult White-tailed Kite, California, November
Figure 1. Distribution of the White-tailed Kite in North and Middle America.

Although threatened with extinction in North America during the early twentieth century, the White-tailed Kite has recovered since then, expanding its range in the U.S. from small portions of California, Texas, and Florida to Oregon and Washington, as well as into Middle America. Many North American populations have declined during the 1980s and 1990s, however, apparently because of habitat loss and perhaps increased disturbance.

This kite inhabits open grasslands and savannah-like habitats. It is a conspicuous bird, easily identified by its bright plumage and characteristic hovering while hunting for its main prey, small mammals. Nonbreeding populations of this species are limited primarily by food, whereas breeding populations appear limited both by food and nest-site availability. Territory size in this kite is a function of both prey and competitor abundance. During the nonbreeding season, it roosts communally, with more than 100 individuals counted at key roosts.

Like most kites, this species is generally easy to observe, especially when foraging; many studies have been published on its foraging ecology. Less is known about its breeding behavior, habitat selection, demography, and genetics. Although some populations fluctuate regularly in size, it is unknown whether this species is migratory, nomadic, or both.