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More graceful in flight than either the buteos or the accipiters are the kites. Although they are hawks, the kites have long, pointed wings similar to those of falcons, and long tails. Found in warm areas, kites have shorter legs and less powerful talons than other members of the hawk family, but are adept at catching prey such as frogs, salamanders, insects, and snails—in fact, the Everglade kites (Rostrhamus sociabilis) prey solely on snails of the genus Pomacea. Also found in North America is a single species of harrier, the hen or marsh hawk (Circus cyaneus), which is common in Europe and in Asia, too. This slender little hawk (maximum weight, 1.25 lb (0.5 kg) eats mice, rats, small birds, frogs, snakes, insects, and carrion.

Old World kites include:

  • Black-breasted buzzard kite (Hamirostra melanosternon). Resident of Australia.
  • Brahminy kite (Hamirostra indus). Resident of Southern Asia, East Indies, New Guinea, northern Australia, and the Solomon Islands.
  • Black kite (Milvus migrans). Resident of Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australasia.
  • Black-shouldered kite (Elanus caeruleus). Resident of Spain, Africa, and southern Asia.

Kites found in North America and their status are as follows:

A red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis.) at the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary, Michigan. The red-tail is North America's most common hawk. Photograph by Robert J. Huffman. Field Mark Publications. Reproduced by permission.

  • Hook-billed kite (Chondrohierax uncinatus). Decline in population with clearing of woods. Subspecies on Grenada and Cuba have been listed as endangered.
  • American swallow-tailed kite (Elanoides forficatus). Marsh drainage, deforestation, and shooting have reduced the population and range. Formerly more widespread in the southeast, and north as far as Minnesota. Current population appears stable.
  • White-tailed kite (Elanus leucurus). The population has been increasing since the 1930s, and settling in places not known historically. Has also spread to American tropics with clearing of forest land.
  • Snail kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis). Endangered species. The population in Florida had been reduced to 20 by 1964, due to marsh draining and shooting. By 1983, they were recovering (with an estimated population of 700). But today the Florida population is endangered due to disruption of water flow (and impact on habitat andsnail population). Although widespread in the tropics, the species there is vulnerable to loss of habitat.
  • Mississippi kite (Ictinia mississippiensis). Increasing since 1950s. Breeding range has expanded westward, possibly due to tree planting for erosion control. Since about 1950, the population in some areas (such as the southern Great plains) has greatly increased. The range has extended to parts of the Southwest, where the species was previously unknown.
  • Black-shouldered kite (Elanus caeruleus). Range has greatly expanded since 1960. This kite is probably the only raptor to have benefited from agricultural expansion. Its expansion has been aided by its ability to adapt to habitat disruption and an increase in the number of rodents.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Habit memory: to HeterodontHawks - Buteos, Accipiters, Kites, Harriers, Characteristics And Behavior, Hawks And Humans