Illustration by Donald L. Malick
This small, pointed-winged kite looks more like a falcon than any other of our kites. A buoyant flier, it soars on flat wings, often high up in the air on thermals, catching and eating insects on the wing. Monotypic. Length 14.5" (37 cm); wingspan 35" (89 cm).
Identification Adult male: dark gray overall, lighter head with red eyes, dark primaries and tail. Seen from above, light secondaries form a bar across the wings. Adult female: Like male, but darker head, whitish barring on undertail coverts. Juvenile: dark brown eyes in a gray-brown head, with wide, creamy superciliary line and gray cheeks. Back and wings are dark brown with buffy edges, scapulars have white spots. Underparts are heavily streaked, and the dark tail has multiple thin white bands. Subadult: body plumage similar to adult’s, but with a blend of juvenal and adult feathers, especially on tail and flight feathers in late summer/first spring. Flight: it does not hover. The pointed wings are notable in that the outer primary is much shorter than the next one. Tail is square-tipped, usually flared in flight. Underwing coverts are gray in adults, mottled in juvenile.
Similar Species Most other kites are whiter. Adult peregrine falcon is larger, but shows similar silhouette in flight. Facial moustache mark and more powerful flight are diagnostic.
Status and Distribution Breeding: Central Great Plains states, Gulf Coast, and up the Atlantic coast into the Carolinas. Isolated colonies in New Mexico and Arizona. A stick nest built in a tall tree may be part of a loose colony of up to 20 pairs. Migration: most migrate August–early September, stragglers into October, often in large groups through coastal Texas. Return late March–early April. Winter: well down in South America. Vagrant: casual spring recs. in New Jersey (May) and southern New England (June). Summer recs. to northern Michigan, New Foundland.
Population Breeding range is slowly expanding.
—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006
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