Black Kite, Milvus migrans

Black Kite

Black Kite, Spain, May 2009, © Markus Jais

Names

English: Black Kite
Scientific: Milvus migrans
German: Schwarzmilan
Spanish: Milano negro
French: Milan noir

Taxonomy and Subspecies

The taxonomy of the Milvus genus is still not fully understood. Some sources recognize 5 subspecies [Bauer et al. 2005], others 6 subspecies [GRIN 2009]. In Europa lives the M. m. migrans. The african Yellow-billed Kite Milvus parasitus is now considered a separate species by most experts.

Size

Length: 55-60 cm
Wingspan: 140-150 cm
Weight: Males 630-930 g, Femails 750-940 g

Maximum Age

Almost 24 years in the wild, 28 years in captivity. [Mebs & Schmidt 2006]

Habitat

Prefers open country. Often found close to water. Normally breeds close to lakes or rivers, which are also used as foraging habitat. In recent years, breeding pairs have been found that were several kilometers away from water. In those case, the nests were often close to landfills where plenty of pray is available. In some places the Black Kite nests close to the Red Kite. The nest is often found in forests close to water or even in small groups of trees. In Africa and Asia, the Black Kite also nests in cities where there is often plenty of prey. [Mebs & Schmidt 2006], [Bauer et al. 2005], [Walz 2005]

Distribution

The subspecies Milvus migrans migrans is the only one that occurs in Europa. It can be found in most European countries, except Island, Ireland, Great Britain and most of Scandinavia (except for a small population in Finland and very rarely in Sweden). Summer visitors may appear farther north like in Great Britain. The other subspecies can be found in Asia, Africa and Australia. The African subspecies Milvus migrans parasitus is now considered a separate species, Yellow-billed Kite Milvus parasitus. [Mebs & Schmidt 2006], [GRIN 2009],

Migration

Black Kites are migratory and spend the winter in Africa south of the Sahara. Some birds can also be seen in southern Europa during the winter but not nearly as common as the Red Kite.
Many migrate via Gibraltar or along the east coast of the Black Sea. Black Kites are also capable of crossing the Mediterranean Sea and many Black Kites cross the Mediterranean Sea at other places than Gibraltar. [Mebs & Schmidt 2006]

Breeding and Reproduction

Black Kites start breeding with 4 or 5 years, which is quite late for a raptor of it's size (this is similar to larger birds like the White-tailed Eagle). Nests are normally built in forests on old trees close to the forest edge. Sometimes, in good habitat, several pairs nest close to each other (up to 30 pairs). Black Kites also like nesting close to (or in) colonies of Cormorants or Grey Herons.
The height of the nest is often between 8 and 15 meters but can be as low as 5 meters or as high as 30 meters.
Black Kites normally lay 2 or 3 eggs, sometimes 4 (there are very race cases of 5 eggs). The breeding time is on average 32 days and the young stay another 43-49 days in the nest. After fledging, the adults care for the young for 15-36 days until the young can live without their parents. [Mebs & Schmidt 2006], [Bauer et al. 2005]

Food and hunting

The Black Kite is an opportunistic feeder. It feeds on a very broad diet. What food is dominant depends on the local situation. Close to water, fish is often the main prey. Black Kites often take dead or sick fish or steal it from other birds.
But the Black Kit is not dependent on fish. Beside fish, the Black kite also hunts small mammals and birds and takes carrion (including road kills). Sometimes insects, amphibians or earthworms are taken.
As with fish, other prey is often stolen from other birds like Common Buzzards or Eurasian Kestrels. The Black Kite is not a very strong raptor and can not kill larger prey (as for example, a Goshawk can).
When searching for prey, the Black Kite, like the Red Kite searches open areas like meadows, fields or open water in a slow searching flight. Kites are light birds with long wings which makes them capable of long flights without loosing too much energy.
Like the Red Kite, the Black Kites often visits garbage dumps.
[Mebs & Schmidt 2006], [Bauer et al. 2005], [Walz 2005]

Population

[Birdlife 2004] estimates the European population to be between 65,000 and 100,000 pairs. It is stable in some countries, increasing or declining in others. The largest numbers breed in the European part of Russia (30,000 - 50,000, declining) and France (22,500 - 26,300, increasing). In Portugal there are 800 - 1,600 pairs, in Germany 2,700 and 4,100, in Switzerland 1,200 - 1,500, in Italy 700 - 1,200 and in Ukraine between 1,500 and 1,800 [Birdlife 2004].
In Spain the national census of 2005 found between 9,500 and 10,900 with more than half in Extremadura and Castilla y Léon [Palomino 2006].

Threats

As a scavenger the Black Kite can suffer from poison intended to either kill the species itself or other raptors or carnivores like Red Foxes or Wolves. As most raptors that regularly or sometimes perch on electric pylons Black Kites can be killed by electrocution on unsafe pylons.
The contamination of rivers and likes can have a negative effect on the Black Kite. It cat take up the contaminants with it's food (fishes). Also, it's prey base can be reduced by contamination or habitat destruction. The destruction of wetlands is another threat to the Black Kite.
In it's African winter quarters pesticides used to kill locusts can kill Black Kites as it feeds a lot on those large insects in Africa [Mebs & Schmidt 2006].

Conservation

Illegal poisoning of raptors and large carnivores must be stopped where it still occurs. In Africa pesticide usage should be restricted and reduced.
Riparian forests and wetlands should be protected and restored where possible. This will also help many other species like the White-tailed Eagle.

Status IUCN/BirdLife

Least Concern (LC)

Status Global Raptor Information Network

Lower risk

References

[Bauer et al. 2005] Bauer, H.-G., Bezzel, E. & Fiedler, W. 2005. Das Kompendium der Vögel Mitteleuropas. Aula-Verlag

[BirdLife International 2004] BirdLife International. 2004. Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status. BirdLife Interntional. Cambridge, UK. (Black Kite species account available at: http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=3355)

[GRIN 2009] Global Raptor Information Network. 2009. Species account: Black Kite Milvus migrans. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 2 Feb. 2009

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

[Palomino 2006] Palomino, D. 2006. El milano negro en España. I Censo Nacional (2005). SEO/BirdLife. Madrid.

[Walz 2005] Walz, Jochen (2005). Rot- und Schwarzmilan. Aula Verlag

Books

Forsman, Dick (1999). The Raptors of Europe and the Middle East A Handbook of Field Identification. Poyser
Mebs, Theodor & Schmidt, Daniel (2006). Die Greifvögel Europas, Nordafrikas und Vorderasiens. Kosmos Verlag.
Walz, Jochen (2005). Rot- und Schwarzmilan. Aula Verlag

Websites

BirdLife Species Factsheet for the Black Kite

GRIN species account for the Black Kite