Black winged or Black Shouldered Kite
The Black-winged Kite is a species primarily of open land and semi-deserts in sub-Saharan Africa and tropical Asia, but it has in relatively recent years gained a foothold within Europe, starting in Spain and Portugal followed by France. The first breeding in Spain was in the 1970’s and then, having initially arrived in France in the 1980’s, we witnessed the first successful pair to breed in 1990 in Aquitaine.
As of 2020 the Black-winged Kite has now fully established itself in south west France, nesting in Dordogne, Charente Maritime, Charente, Deux Sevres, Vienne, Haute Vienne, Centre, Creuse and probably other Departements with a rapidly expanding population that is bucking the downward trend of so many other bird species. In fact as of 2022 they have nested in Ille-et-Vilaine and are predicted to colonise the rest of Brittany in the near future.Additionally they are sometimes seen along the Mediterranean coast, the Atlantic coast in the west and even in Normandy and the Aisne. All in all an extraordinary expansion of range
It is a long-winged raptor that is predominantly grey or white with black shoulder patches, wing tips and eye stripe. The wings which are long and falcon like extend beyond the tail when perched. In flight the tail is short and square – not forked as is typical of other kites in the genus Milvus, (e.g. Black and Red kite). Both sexes have the same plumage.
Length: 31-35 cm
Wingspan: 75-87 cm
Weight: 197-343 g
Lifespan: No reliable statistics but 15 to 20 years is likely to be typical.
Photos above - credit Stephen Young
Behaviour, Habitat and Diet. This Kite is a bird of open habitats, semi desert, steppes and agricultural areas. It is not found in dense forests or heavily wooded areas. Although this is a non migratory species they do have a very erratic behaviour, sometimes moving over very long distances. This erratic behaviour can occur at any time of the year but April/ May is most likely in France and may be connected with food shortages .Diet is made up mainly of small mammals, (85%+ in France), small birds, reptiles and insects. Smaller prey is eaten in flight with larger prey taken to a perch such as a dead branch, electricity or telephone pole etc Here when perched they often “fidget” with their wings and tail as if trying to balance. Larger prey may be dismembered on the ground. Hunting flight mixes the slow passes of a Harrier with the more rapid movements of a Kestrel and includes hovering like a Kestrel but with less rapid wing beats. They are not usually very vocal outside of the breeding season and any calls are quite muted, soft whistles and high squeals. Communal roosts, sometimes very large, are quite common, (as with other Kites and Harriers), but in France numbers are too low for this.
Reproduction. Nesting usually starts early in Europe with the first eggs being laid between February and April but the Black-shouldered Kite seems to be pretty flexible when it comes to the right time for laying eggs. Remarkably in France, clutches have been found in all months except December and January and several clutches may be undertaken successively whatever the success of previous clutches, (rather like the Collared dove). In Aquitaine, five completely successful clutches were identified in a 14 month period. More unusual behaviour is that when the young first fledge the female may start a second brood with a different male, leaving the male of the first brood to continue with feeding the young for several more weeks.
The nest is built on a branch in a high tree and a new nest is built each year even though the same tree may be used from one year to another. Although the male and the female take part in the nest building there is a tendency for the male to collect suitable material and for the female to actually construct the nest. Three or four eggs are laid and incubated for about 26 days mainly by the female. Once again we find that, as with other raptors, it is the female that usually stays with the chicks and feeds them in the initial period when they are hatched with the male hunting and providing the food for all. Fledging takes place at about 30 to 35 days from birth.
Threats and menaces. Habitat loss and changes associated with intensive agriculture, (cutting copses, removal of hedges, loss of open grassland or heath etc.). In the case of autumn reproduction, common in this species, hunting could be an additional source of disturbance and of course wind turbines for a low flying species.