Drive down almost any country road in Southern Africa and you are bound to see a small grey and white raptor sitting in a slightly hunched position and looking somewhat gull-like, on a roadside telephone pole, or, more spectacularly, hovering above the ground and peering downwards for prey below. This is the Black-shouldered kite, one of the most common of the raptors in most of the region, at home in grasslands, woodlands and semi-arid areas, avoiding only the extremely dry areas and the forested areas. Its range is extensive, and these little raptors are found throughout Africa south of the Sahara, as well as parts of Asia, and its range may well be extending.
Quite small for a raptor, with a length of around 30 cm, the Black shouldered kite is pale grey above and white below, with a black patch on the upperwing. The legs and feet are yellow; the bill black and the eyes red. Their forward-facing eyes and soft plumage is somewhat owl-like. Sexes are alike in plumage, with the female being slightly larger than the male.
Seen during the day, Black-shouldered kites are usually solitary, or in pairs, while they gather into flocks and roost communally at night. As mentioned, they very often hunt from telephone poles or other convenient perches, or may hover, very much like a kestrel, over open ground from where they descend quickly when prey is spotted. Food is mainly small rodents, grasshoppers, lizards and small birds.
They are generally fairly quiet and their range of calls includes a high-pitched squeal and a much quieter whistle.
The nest of the monogamous Black-shouldered kite is a small platform of sticks, usually lined with grass and typically located near the top of a thorn tree, just below the canopy. The female lays a clutch of three or four cream-coloured eggs that are spotted with red, and which hatch after an incubation period of about 31 days.
The scientific binomial for the Black-shouldered kite is Elanus caeruleus; Elanus being the Latin for “a kite” and caeruleus being the Latin for “blue”. Thus a blue kite, which is fairly close.