Elanus caeruleus - The Black-shouldered Kite

A common bird of prey in South Africa, the Black-shouldered Kite is a small, grey and white raptor with a black shoulder. The upperparts are bluish grey, with black wing coverts which appear as a distinctive, black shoulder patch. The underparts are white. There is a small black mask around the eye. Young birds have a reddish-brown wash on the head and breast and the feathers of the upperparts are tipped white.

Did you know? During the breeding season black-shouldered kite perform impressive aerial displays to attract a mate.

The bill is short with a sharp, hooked tip to the upper mandible. The bill is black, while the feet and legs, and the cere (skin at the base of the bill) are bright yellow. The eye is dark red in adult and brownish-orange in immature birds.

This small raptor is able to hunt by hovering on upturned wings about 50 meters above the ground. When prey is sighted, the kite glides gracefully straight down into the grass. Black-shouldered Kites are highly nomadic - moving about in search of prey.


Range length: 35 to 38 cm.
Range wingspan: 80 to 95 cm.


Black-shouldered Kites are mainly residents of open grasslands, probably because it is easier for them to see potential prey in open areas.


The Black-shouldered Kite is one of the more common birds of prey seen in South Africa. It is more common in the highveld grasslands fynbos and cultivated land areas and is largely absent from closed woodland and forest areas. You might spot them at the Greater St Lucia Wetlands Park (now known as iSimangaliso Wetland Park in St Lucia on the Elephant Coast), Shamwari Game Reserve just outside Port Elizabeth, Kololo Private Game Reserve in the Waterberg of Limpopo, the Mapungubwe National Park in Limpopo, and the Faerie Glen Nature Reserve in Pretoria.


Their diet includes small mammals and insects, rodents and small birds.


Black-shouldered Kite is usually seen singly or in pairs. Occasionally gregarious they may form small family groups and roost communally.


During the breeding season black-shouldered kite perform impressive aerial displays. During a typical display one bird will dive towards another which rolls over and presents its claws. The couple will then do cart-wheels in the air - quite lovely to behold! A series of weak calls are emitted by the birds during this display.


They are monogamous birds with the female of the species selecting her mate based on his territory. Breeding occurs all year round and peaks in the summer months. The nest, which is built by the male and female birds, is a small platform of sticks lined with grass, about 30cm in diameter. This is placed near the top of a tree in a fork.

The 2 to 6 eggs laid are incubated by the female for a period of 26 - 33 days and then are cared for by the mother whilst the father hunts for food which he then passes on to the female for feeding to her chicks. They are taught to fly after when they are about a month old and will the chicks become independent and leave the nest after a further 40 - 70 days.


Incubation lasts about 30 days.

Life Expectancy

6 years in the wild.


Predators include the Bateleur and Tawny eagles and the Spotted Eagle Owl. Nestlings are preyed on by Jackal buzzard.


Biodiversity Explorer; Planet of Birds.

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Black-shouldered Kite
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