The white-tailed kite (Elanus leucurus) is an elanid kite of genus Elanus found in western North America and parts of South America.
These bird’s coloration is gull-like, but their shape and flight falcon-like, with a rounded tail. Mainly white underneath, they have black wingtips and shoulders. Adults have long, narrow, pointed wings and a long white tail, gray back and wings. Adults generally sport a white face and underside, with a black spot on inner portion of wings. Their eyes are red.
Juveniles are similar to adults, but with buffy streaks on the breast and head, gray with white-tipped or scalloped feathers on the back, and yellow eyes.
A mid-sized kite, it measures 14 to 17 inches in length, spans 35–40 inches across the wings and weighs 8.8 to 13.4 ounces. Both the wings, at 11.4 to 12.9 inches each, and the tail, at 5.9 to 7.3 inches, are relatively elongated. The tarsus measures around 1.4 inches.
Formerly confused with the black-winged kite of Europe and Africa as Elanus caeruleus and collectively referred to as the black-shouldered kite, the white-tailed kite is now distinguished from the Old World species in size, shape, plumage, and behavior by the American Ornithologists’ Union, and is once again called the black-winged kite.
Because of shooting and egg-collecting, the white-tailed kite was rendered nearly extinct in California in the 1930s and 1940s. The birds’ numbers are growing. In recent weeks, white tailed kites were an issue in San Bernardino County, as the Harmony development in Highland/Mentone is encroaching on their known habitat locally. They are distributed irregularly in California at this point, being found in the Central Valley and southern coastal areas, open land around Goleta including on Ellwood Mesa, marshes in Humboldt County, around the San Francisco Bay and in the San Bernardino Mountains. Elsewhere they are still rare. They are also found in southern Texas, on the Baja California Peninsula, and in eastern Mexico. On rare occasions the bird can be found far outside its usual range. At different times, two had been sighted in New England as of 2010.
A medium-sized raptor of open grasslands, lowland scrub and savannas, the White-tailed Kite is readily identified by its bright plumage and its habit of hovering while hunting for small mammals, particularly feeding on rodents. The are readily seen patrolling, but they rarely if ever eat other birds, and even in open cerrado, mixed-species feeding flocks will generally ignore them. Outside the breeding season, they roost communally in groups of up to 100.