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Black-winged Kite
Elanus caeruleus

Black-shouldered Kite,
Lang Bahu Hitam/Ekor Cabang (Malay)

Black-winged Kites are commonly seen in the rural parts of Singapore. These sleek small birds of prey are the only raptors in Singapore that can be seen hovering.

Black-winged Kites prefer live prey and hunt small rodents and birds (rails and young bitterns, occasionally mynas). They also eat some reptiles (lizards) and large insects. Where food is scarce, they may eat carrion.

Like other raptors, Black-winged Kites have excellent eyesight, and powerful bills and claws. To hunt, they may perch-and-wait, usually during the hotter part of the day or when it's raining.

Another hunting technique is to patrol on the wing, used mainly towards the evening and when there are young to feed. This involves a rapid flight, often at low levels (15-20m above the ground), combined with hovering then diving onto their prey with the wings held straight up, usually in grass or low vegetation. This method is 4-5 times more successful than perch-and-wait.
Mangrove and wetland wildlife at
Sungei Buloh Nature Park
Main features: Small (28-35cm); generally pale; wings short pointed; tail short square-ended. Genders look alike but females larger.

Adult: Pale grey upperparts, crown, nape; wings grey with black shoulder patch; white forehead, eyebrow,
black-winged kite on a perch
Photo from
Morten Strange
sides of head and underparts; eye red; bill black; yellow feet.

Juvenile: Face and breast mottled rufous; back darker grey scaled black.

Call: Described as a short thin mewing whistle pieu; warning call a harsh repeated scream ku-eek.

In flight: Soars fast with wings held in an obvious V-shape. From below: white body, wing coverts and secondaries contrasting with black secondaries; from above all pale grey except for black wing lining. Flaps with deep slow strokes that bounces the body. Frequently hovers with tail pointing down.

Status in Singapore: Very common resident throughout including North offshore islands.

World distribution: Africa and Asia.

Classification: Family Accipitridae. World 240 species, Singapore 27 species.

They prefer hunting sites with good perches and a favourite perch may be used daily.Black-winged Kites are found in open country like back mangroves, grasslands and oil-palm plantations. Although seen in secondary growth and forest edges, they are not found in the forest.

Although they may share a roost tree and nest in the same tree, Black-shouldered Kites usually defend a hunting territory from others of their kind. Some may also defend a nesting site. These Kites may engage in aerial battles, locking talons and spinning nearly to the ground. They attack each other in flight by rolling over and striking upwards with their talons.

Breeding: Black-winged Kites breed year round. Males court with mock dive-attacks on a perching female and a mated pair may perform aerial displays or soaring and chasing, and calling from the nest tree. Paired mates also share food, even away from the nest. They usually mate high on a tree or perch.

Black-winged Kites nest high up in trees or palms (especially coconut palms), 6-46m above the ground. The nest is an untidy small platform (1m across) built of thin sticks with a lining of fine twigs or grass stems. The male does most of the collection of nesting material, bringing it to the female which builds the nest. They build a new nest every year, although they may use the same area or even the same tree. They aggressively defend the nest site from all other birds, including small ones like crows.

Average 3-5, sometimes only 1-2, white eggs are laid. It appears that only the female incubates (25-28 days), but the male provides her with food. She doesn't hunt until the young are half way to fledging, which they do in 74 days. Although the chicks hatch at different times, there is little aggression among them and often all survive. The male brings prey to the nest and the female feeds the chicks. She does not favour the largest chick and feeds all of them. The pair may lay again as soon as the first brood leaves their territory.

Migration: A few Black-winged Kites breed in Singapore. Records suggest they only recently settled here and were previously migrants. Established pairs tend to stay put, but others will move on to find new habitats, thus resulting in gradual movement to new areas.

Status and threats: Black-winged Kites are not at risk in Singapore as they benefit from the open habitats created by human interference: parks, reclaimed land, green corridors. They are good natural controls on rodent pests. Elsewhere, however, populations are affected by habitat destruction and overuse of pesticides.

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  • Morten Strange, "A Photographic Guide to Birds of Malaysia and Singapore: including Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Borneo", Periplus, 2000 (p. 72: description, voice, habits, distribution, status, photo).
  • Morten Strange, "Tropical Birds of Malaysia and Singapore", Periplus Editions, 2000 (p. 13: habits, habitat, photo).
  • David R Wells, "The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula: Vol. 1 (Non-Passarines)", Academic Press, 1999 (p. 130-132: identification, distribution map, habits, habitat, migration, conservation).
  • Lim Kim Seng, "Pocket Checklist of the Birds of the Republic of Singapore", Nature Society (Singapore), 1999 (Abundance, status, Chinese and Malay names).
  • Lim Kim Seng and Dana Gardner, "Birds: An Illustrated Field Guide to the Birds of Singapore", Sun Tree Publishing Ltd., 1997 (p. 72: identification, status in Singapore, distribution, diagram, number of species).
  • G W H Davison and Chew Yen Fook, "A Photographic Guide to Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore", New Holland Publishers Ltd., 1995 (p. 22: identification, status in Singapore, distribution, photo).
  • Morten Strange and Allen Jeyarajasingam, "Birds: A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore", Sun Tree Publishing, 1993 (p. 74: description, distribution, habits, habitat, photo).
  • Christopher Hails, "Birds of Singapore" illustrated by Frank Jarvis, Times Editions, 1987 reprinted 1995 (p. 59: habits, description, status in Singapore, and lovely drawings of the birds).
  • Lim Kim Seng, "Vanishing Birds of Singapore", Nature Society (Singapore), 1992 (p. 6: status in Singapore).
  • Prof. Dr. Yong Hoi Sen (ed.), "The Encyclopedia of Malaysia: Animals"; Birds of Prey by Siti Hawa bt Yatim, Editions Didier Millet, 1998 (p. 42-43: habits, habitats.
By Ria Tan, 2001