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Species Spotlight: White-Tailed Kite Hovers above MSHCP Lands

Mar 21, 2022 | MSHCP, Species

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a plane! It’s Superman! Well, none of the above. It’s actually the White-tailed Kite (Elanus leucurus). Once almost extinct in California in the early 1930s due to hunting and egg-collecting, the species has made a comeback just like superheroes on the big screen.
Classified as a raptor or bird of prey, this small to medium bird is one of 45 avian species protected by the MSHCP. Its wingspan measures up to about 43 inches to the tips of its narrow, pointed wings.

As the name suggests, White-tailed Kites have the super-bird ability to hover like a kite. They do this by facing toward the wind and flapping their wings, which allows them to hover in place while scanning the ground for those delicious prey. You can’t just wing this skill.

White-tailed Kites are permanent residents in much of California, from the coastal areas to the arid regions of southern California, like western Riverside County. Within our county, they aren’t hiding in phone booths, but instead are hovering in the Prado Basin/Santa Ana River, Lake Mathews-Estelle Mountain, Wasson Canyon, Vail Lake, Wilson Valley, Lake Skinner/Diamond Valley Lake, Lake Perris/Mystic Lake.

The species forages for food in grasslands, agriculture, cismontane alkali marsh, playas and vernal pools, freshwater marsh, Riversidean alluvial fan sage scrub, coastal sage scrub, and chaparral. They breed in riparian scrub, woodland, and forest; peninsular juniper woodland and scrub; and oak woodland and forest. The MSHCP protects these habitat areas for this bird and other species.

In early December, White-tailed Kites seek mates and start the home construction process by building their nest near the holidays. In early February, the kites lay three to five eggs with an incubation period of approximately 30 to 32 days. After their fledglings leave the nest four to five weeks later, the young remain dependent on their parents for up to two to three months. These are not slacker younglings, they are still learning skills from their parents such as foraging, hunting, songs, and other vital social behaviors. However at this point, their parents may already have plans for more babies with a second nest attempt.

Through the MSHCP, at least 19,880 acres of suitable land will be conserved for breeding habitat and 281,890 acres for foraging habitat for the White-tailed Kite.