Black-shouldered Kite


English: Black-shouldered Kite, Black-winged Kite
Scientific: Elanus caeruleus
German: Gleitaar
Spanish: Elanio común
French: Elanion blanc

Taxonomy and Subspecies

Forms a superspecies with the White-tailed Kite Elanus leucurus and the Australian Kite Elanus axillaris [GRIN 2009].
Currently 4 subspecies are described by [GRIN 2009] and [Mebs & Schmidt 2006]. In Europe only E. c. caeruleus occurs.


Length: 31-35 cm
Wingspan: 75-87 cm
Weight: 197-343 g

Maximum Age

Unknown. [Mebs & Schmidt 2006]


In Africa mostly in savannahs, steppes or semi-desert [Mebs & Schmidt 2006]. In Spain often in agricultural areas. Not found in dense forests.


In Europe only breeds in Spain, Portugal and south-western France. The first pairs in Spain have been found in the 1970ies and in France the first pair successfully bread in 1990 [Mebs & Schmidt 2006].
The Black-shouldered Kite is therefore only a recent “addition” to the European avifauna.


Sedentary in Europe. Outside the breeding season, sometimes erratic movements to places with better availability of food.

Breeding and Reproduction

Probably able to breed with the age of 1 year [Mebs & Schmidt 2006]. 2-6 (normally 3-4) eggs are laid. Incubation is 30-33 days in the young spend 30-35 days in the nest [Mebs & Schmidt 2006, SEO 2007].
One unusual behaviour is that the female may start a second brood with a different male after the young have fledged. The male of the first brood continues feeding the fledged young for several weeks [Mebs & Schmidt 2006].
The eggs are normally laid in early spring (February – April in Europe) but the Black-shouldered Kite seems to be pretty flexible when it comes to the right time for laying eggs. In France, clutches have been found in all month except December and January [GRIN 2009].

Food and hunting

Hunts from perches or on the wing. Also hovers. Feeds mainly on rodents but also takes small birds, reptiles and insects.


The European population has increased considerably since the first nests were found in the 1970ies in Spain. The most pairs breed in Spain with a population currently estimated at between 500 and 1,000 pairs [SEO 2007]. In Portugal there were 100-150 pairs in 1999 [Mebs & Schmidt 2006]. In France the population has reached 22 pairs in 2007.


Pestizides may be a problem for the Black-shouldered Kite as they are for most other raptors. They can either affect the birds themselves or reduce the availability of prey.


Agriculture should be practiced in an environmentally friendly way without pesticides and the conservation of small structures, hedgerows, trees and fallow land. This helps the prey species like small rodents. Many other raptor and bird species would also benefit from this.

Status IUCN/BirdLife

Least Concern (LC)

Status Global Raptor Information Network

Lower risk


[Bauer et al. 2005] Bauer, H.-G., Bezzel, E. & Fiedler, W. 2005. Das Kompendium der Vögel Mitteleuropas. Aula-Verlag[GRIN 2009] Global Raptor Information Network. 2009. Species account: Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus. Downloaded from on 29 Mar. 2009

[Mebs & Schmidt 2006] Mebs, Theodor & Schmidt, Daniel. 2006. Die Greifvögel Europas, Nordafrikas und Vorderasiens. Kosmos Verlag.

[SEO 2007] SEO/BirdLife Spain, Juan M. Vaerla Simó 2007. Aves Amenazadas de España, Lynx Edicions.


Forsman, Dick. 1999. The Raptors of Europe and the Middle East A Handbook of Field Identification. PoyserMebs, Theodor & Schmidt, Daniel. 2006. Die Greifvögel Europas, Nordafrikas und Vorderasiens. Kosmos Verlag.


BirdLife Species Factsheet for the Black-shouldered Kite

GRIN species account for the Black-shouldered Kite