August 2013

Black Kites

I've had multiple sightings of a flock of raptors over the past few days. They are brownish in colour, have dark ends to the underwings and longish tails that are slightly concave. Which raptor are they?

Answer

A Black Kite in flight. Can you see the dark wingtips and “forked” tail? Black Kites often live in groups, flying together during the day and even roosting together at night in trees.

The raptors you have described are Black Kites (Milvus migrans). The dark tips to the underwings and the forked tail are two great features that you can use to identify this species in flight.

Though a common sight out west, Black Kites are rare closer to the coast. However due to drought conditions in parts of inland Australia they have recently become more abundant in South-East Queensland. The species is relatively communal and birds are often seen in large groups. In optimum conditions, these groups can reach numbers 1000 or more!

Typically Black Kites prey on small animals; however they are also scavengers with a broad diet. This is why Black Kites are often seen above areas rich in easy food such as rubbish tips and sewerage ponds. Their opportunistic feeding habits have also led to the observation of some interesting behaviours. In parts of Australia the Black Kite has another name, the “Firehawk”. This name has sprung from the behaviour of birds patrolling the leading edge of a fire. They do this in order to eat the insects and small animals that are fleeing the flames. Some people even say that they have seen birds pick up burning sticks in order to start new fires and get more food. This has not yet been proven.

It will be interesting to see if this opportunistic species remains in SEQ once conditions inland improve.

The Black Kite is only one of a few different bird species that have temporarily relocated to the coast in response to dry conditions. People have seen rare ducks, other waterbirds and even Budgerigars in parts of South-East Queensland where they are not normally found. These birds are especially attracted to water. The next time you are out and about keep your eyes peeled. You never know what you might see.

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