Raptor Friday - Black-Shouldered Kite

The Black-winged Kite alias the Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus caeruleus) is easily the most handsome and the most distinguishable of kites. The first time I saw this bird was in a photo, shot by my photography guru Prabakar Venkatraman, in which this bird was perched on a steel rod at the top of a building. I sat open-mouthed looking at the picture -- a white, grey and black bird with captivating cherry-red eyes -- and wondered when I would get a chance to see it. A year later I saw it perch, at what seemed to be a light year away, on a high-tension wire. Since then, I would run into this fairly common bird time and again.

The bird is charecterized by the round, kitish head with red eyes, white body, bright red eyes with black highlights, and black wings. It is regularly seen in open country, deserted scrublands and in open cultivation, perched on roadside electric or telephone cables, tree branches without a lot of leaves, and most often on high-tension electric lines.

In flight the bird is very elegant -- the long, black-tipped wings are held out with the primaries tapering to a pointed edge. The flight is relatively slow, and the bird hovers over open areas with their tail feathers fanned out, wings flapping, as it seeks out prey below.

Though sexes are alike, juvenile kites have orange eyes and white tips to the wing feathers. The Black-winged Kite feeds on insects, rodents, reptiles and, when opportunity permits, smaller birds.

Text and photos: Sandeep Somasekharan