White-tailed Kites: Hunting

White-tailed Kite may be most noticeably recognized by their hunting technique of hovering between five to twenty-five meters off the ground while searching for prey (3). Kites have long pointed wings, with a wingspan of about forty inches (2). When hovering, the wings are held high, the tail and legs hang down, and the kite scans the ground below for prey. Kites tend to forage during the early morning or late evening (8). They also appear to hunt at other times of the day if the temperature is less than twenty degrees centigrade (3). White-tailed Kite almost always hunt by hovering, while facing into the wind. This activity may last for about a minute, and may end in a number of different ways: with a descent to a lower hovering position; by flying to a different position for another hover; by diving to the ground to capture prey; by an interaction with another bird; or by returning to a perching position. (3)

When dropping down to capture prey, film frame detail has shown that kites descend at an almost vertical angle of seventy-five degrees or more, and that the descent can be modified in both speed and direction. During the first part of the descent, the legs hang down until the kite is about three to ten feet off the ground. At this time, the kite changes the slow descent into a faster dive by bending the body forward, raising the tail, and tucking the legs under the body. In order to control balance, the wings remain upright. The descent may be averted at any time by the bird returning to a flying mode and climbing back into the air. On capturing prey, a kite emits a series of rasping sounds that can be heard up to a hundred meters away. (8)

Prey items of White-tailed Kite include small diurnal mammals, birds, lizards and insects (3). However, for the most part, kites tend to rely on a low-diversity diet of small mammals usually between twenty to seventy grams in weight (3). Waian (8) found from pellet analysis and observation that the California Vole or Meadow Mouse, Microtus californicus, was the major prey type in the area of study. Food caching has not been reported (3).