California Raptor Center

Quick Facts

Scientific Name: Elanus leucurus
(Elanus is Latin for ‘a kite’ and leucurus is Greek for ‘white-tailed’).

Size: Length: 14-16in Wingspan: 37-40in        

Weight: Female: 332-375g (~0.73-0.83lb) Male: 311-322g (~0.68-0.71lb)

Lifespan: White-tailed Kites can live up to 5 years. They don’t do well in captivity, due to the fact that they are an easily stressed species.

ID: Long white tail. Gray back and wings. White face and underside. Black spot on inner portion of wings. Eyes red. Juveniles have rufous streaking on breast and back for a few months then have adult plumage. Juveniles have brown eyes for 2-3 years.

Hunting: Forages almost exclusively by hovering , facing the wind and scanning the ground. When attacking prey, wings are put nearly vertical and the kite drops feet first.

Prey: Small rodents, insects, and amphibians.

Breeding: These birds build a new nest every year, although the same area, or even the same tree may be used. It is a small, light structure of thin twigs, flat and loosely made. The male brings most of the material, which is then worked into the nest by the female. The male feeds her on or near the nest during this time. White-tailed Kites lay 3-6 eggs most commonly 4. Only the female will incubate the eggs. Incubation period is 28-32 days. Nestling period is 4-5 weeks.

Range: Resident in southern Texas and California, as well as scattered locations in Washington, Oregon, and Florida, also from Mexico to South America. Savanna, open woodlands, marshes, desert grassland, partially cleared lands, and cultivated fields.

Status: A fully protected species in California, White-tailed kites have recovered from near extinction in the 1930’s to being common throughout most of California today. 

White-tailed Kite

White Tailed Kite on a treeKites' ancestors are thought to be among the earliest raptor-type birds, and today, kites of various related species are found the world over. The White-tailed Kite is California's only resident species, and they stay in the Valley year around – small, delicate hawks, white, gray, and black, with a white tail. Normal adults have fierce red eyes.

White-tailed Kites nest in large trees near open areas, particularly near farms and wetlands. We see them most commonly hovering over fields, hunting for mice and voles. These hawks were nearly killed off in California in the 1930s and 40s, owing to nest robbing and shooting, but today, the population is recovering and expanding into the foothills. Their enemies are other hawks and owls, as well as raccoons and crows, who rob their nests of young. In spite of this, there is a healthy, growing population throughout their habitats.

Juvenile White Tailed Kite