A ‘scruffy’ bird of prey, with a diverse diet and able to thrive in a wide range of habitats, the whistling kite is native to Australia. It is also found on some of the nearby South Pacific islands and island groups, but does not occur outside of this particular region.
Whistling Kites are medium-sized birds of prey, with pale buff upperparts and heads and lighter brown underparts. Their wings are darker brown, with blackish outer wing feathers. The underside of the wings features a light-coloured ‘M-shape’, only visible in flight. They have an overall shaggy, ruffled appearance.
Whistling kites have long rounded tails and a wide wingspan. Their legs are short, featherless, and horn coloured. The beak is short and grey, with a distinctive hooked tip, and its eyes are black.
Males and females are alike in appearance, although females may be up to 42 percent larger.
Juvenile whistling kites’ upperparts are speckled with buff and white, and their underparts are heavily streaked.
Whistling Kite perching in trees in open habitat
Female whistling kites are significantly bigger and heavier than males, although there may be some overlap between the smallest females and the largest males.
Whistling Kite in-flight
The main call of a whistling kite is clear and distinctive, with a piercing ‘seeeo’ descending whistle that may be followed by a series of rising notes and broken chattering sounds.
Whistling Kite standing on the ground chattering
Whistling kites are not particularly fussy over what they eat, and their diverse diet includes mammals – particularly rabbits, birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians, crustaceans, insects and carrion.
In Australia, live prey is usually caught during most of the year, although in winter months carrion becomes more important. In New Guinea, they tend to be opportunistic scavengers, feeding on poultry, roadkill, offal and large carcasses.
In coastal and wetland regions, whistling kites are known for their habit of stealing prey from herons and ibises, forcing them to drop or regurgitate fish they have caught before taking it for themselves.
Adult birds bring food to the nest for their young until they fledge, tearing it into manageable-sized chunks until they are able to digest larger items of prey whole. Small mammals including young rabbits and rodents are among the most common prey. Smaller insects, including grasshoppers and larvae, are also offered to nestlings in the early days after hatching.
Whistling Kite in-flight searching for prey
Whistling kites are found in wooded habitats and open landscapes, usually within a short distance of water. Tall trees, often eucalyptus and pine, are required for nesting, and nearby foraging grounds may include orchards, paddocks, farmland and roadsides.
Whistling kites are not found outside of Australia and the nearby Pacific Ocean islands of New Guinea, New Caledonia, and the Solomon Islands. Within Australia, populations are widespread across the east of the country, but absent from much of the arid west and interior of the country.
Whistling kites are found in a limited number of countries, with Australia having by far the largest share of the global population. The species occurs naturally in New Caledonia, the island of New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands.
No data is currently available for a global population estimate for this species, although they are classified as of least concern, and are widespread throughout their range. They have adapted to live in a diverse range of habitats, and their diet is unspecialised, meaning they are able to survive in different environments and sightings are not unusual.
Northern regions of Australia have the highest concentrations of whistling kites, but the species is widespread and secure throughout much of the country, with the exception of Tasmania and the west interior where the arid conditions make survival a challenge for many wildlife species. Coastal areas and along rivers offer a good chance of sightings.
Whistling Kite resting on a wooden post in natural habitat
On average, whistling kites live for around 8 years, although much older individuals have been identified through banding records, including one that reached 20 years and 4 months.
Whistling kites have few natural predators in the wild. The main threats come from human hunting or accidental encounters with manmade objects or vehicles.
Throughout Australia, whistling kites are federally protected against being killed, injured, captured, or traded.
Whistling kites are classified as a species of least concern, although some local declines have been identified in South Australia, thought to be linked to the drainage of wetlands and the resulting loss of food resources
Whistling Kite looking out from the top of a tree
Tall trees offer suitable nesting spots for whistling kite pairs, with eucalyptus trees being a popular species. Bulky platforms of twigs and sticks are built in forks of the upper branches by both parents, and a lining of fresh green leaves is added.
Whistling kites have a long breeding season, coinciding with Australia’s dry season, with young being raised between July and December. Incubation lasts for 35 to 38 days, shared between the male and female although females take a larger share. Young whistling kites fledge after 44 to 54 days and parental care continues for a further 6 to 8 weeks.
Two to three blue-white eggs, often marked with reddish-brown blotches are laid by female whistling kites. On average, eggs measure 45 mm by 40 mm (1.8 in by 1.6 in).
Long-term monogamous pairs are formed and mates remain together all year round. Pairs regularly return to their old nests in future breeding seasons if they have been used to raise young successfully, and will add extra nesting material with each season.
Whistling Kite resting in the trees
Whistling Kites are generally solitary birds, and usually seen alone, in a pair, or occasionally as a larger group at overnight roosting sites. They are not typically an aggressive species, although if their nest and young are threatened, then they will challenge intruders with vocal alarm calls and defensive posturing.
Whistling Kite perching in natural habitat
Some dispersal within Australia may occur at the end of the breeding season from colder regions in the south and south-east to warmer areas further north or towards the coast. In tropical regions, populations of whistling hawks are resident all year round.
Whistling kites are native to Australia, both breeding and wintering in the country and its offshore islands. The species is not present in much of the interior and west of the country, apart from coastal regions. They are also found in the Pacific islands of New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands and New Guinea.
Whistling Kite in-flight
Although it is sometimes referred to as the whistling eagle or the whistling hawk, the whistling kite is a separate species of raptor. Kites are smaller than eagles, and also faster and lighter, and they feed on different prey.
Whistling Eagle, Whistling Hawk
Family:Kites, hawks and eagles
51cm to 59cm
120cm to 146cm
600g to 1000g
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