Ian’s Bird of the Week – Whistling Kite

Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus) by Ian

Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus) by Ian

Ian’s Bird of the Week – Whistling Kite  ~ by Ian Montgomery

I’ve just revised the eagle, hawk and allies galleries (Acciptridae http://www.birdway.com.au/accipitridae/index.htm ) on the website with the new format, larger image sizes and regional indices with different background colours. Eagles and hawks attract great interest generally and are the most popular targets for internet searches on the website. They’re also popular with birders and are a challenge to identify in flight, so a good place to start is the widespread and common Whistling Kite – the one we probably check most often to make sure it isn’t something more unusual like a Square-tailed Kite or Little Eagle.

Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus) by Ian

Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus) by Ian

At 50-60cm/20-24in in length and with a wingspan of about 1.2m/47in, the Whistling Kite is just one of about a dozen Australian species of raptors in this size range and with colours in varying shades of coffee. So, leaving size and beverages aside, identification relies on other features particular underwing pattern, relative sizes and shapes of wings and tail and style of flight. As you can see in the first two photos, Whistling Kites have distinctive wing patterns, with the most notable feature being the contrasting outer very dark primaries*, very pale 3 or 4 inner primaries and very dark secondaries. The resulting pattern is a white spot on the trailing edge of the wing and a pale right-angle formed by the leading under-wing coverts and the pale primaries. This is diagnostic: other raptors have pale patches – windows or bull-eyes – but usually in the ‘palm’ of the hand or the leading edge and lack an abrupt right-angle.

Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus) by Ian

Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus) by Ian

*The primary flight feathers, usually numbering 9 -11 inmost species of birds (except Grebes, Storks and Flamingos – 12 –  and Ostriches – 16) and are attached to the ‘hand’ part of the wing (metacarpals and phalanges of the large second digit). The secondaries, very variable in number, are attached to the ulna of the ‘forearm’ between the ‘elbow’ (not obvious in birds as the humerus is short and thick for attachment of the large pectoral muscle) and the ‘wrist’ – the forward-pointing angle in the middle of the leading edge.

Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus) by Ian

Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus) by Ian

The tail of the Whistling Kite is characteristic too: long, latte coloured and paddle-shaped with a rounded and you can see in the first that the Whistling Kites swivel the tail like a paddle for steering. Most other raptors have darker tails with barring – the Whistling Kite has faint, barely visible bars. Whistling Kites glide with horizontally curved – rather than flat or angled wings – a bit like seagulls one draws as a kid and have a rather floppy untidy flight. When perched, they usually do so in an upright stance, rather like a Brown Falcon, as in the third photo. They build a typical raptor nest – bulky, with large sticks – high in a tree and re-used so that it gets very large after a number of years.

The Whistling Kite gets its name from its distinctively un-raptor-like call. Its is common throughout Australia except in the driest areas of western South Australia and eastern Western Australia. They take live prey including fish, so they are frequenty found near both fresh and salt water, but also feed on carrion and are often seen cruising along highways, along with Black Kites, Brahminy Kites and Wedge-tailed Eagles, looking for road-kills. Their only close relative is the Brahminy Kite, and these two species comprise (globally) the genus Haliastur.

Back at the website, I’ve applied the new format to the Cockatoos and Estrildid Finches, both also popular targets:
Best wishes,

Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Phone: +61-7 4751 3115
Preferred Email: ian@birdway.com.au
Website: http://birdway.com.au

Lee’s Addition:
Ian has been working hard on his website and it is really looking good. Ian, I like the new format. Click on his links for some really nice photographs of birds and other critters. Birdway.com.au
From his site, “28 May 2010: this site contains more than 5,000 photos of 1,234 bird species in the wild – 596 of these are on the main Australian list of Christidis & Boles, 2008 – and 83 photos of 23 species of reptiles and Australian mammals.”

And the vulture, and the kite after his kind; (Leviticus 11:14 KJV)

The Kite is a member of the Accipitridae Family and has 250 members. They are in the Accipitriformes Order. The family has Kites, Hawks, Eagles, and their allies. The Kite is also one of the Birds of the Bible and is in the “unclean” list of birds not to be eaten.


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