Whistling Kite

Haliastur sphenurus

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 Kite

Whistling Kite

Whistling Kite in-flight in natural habitat

Whistling Kite in-flight in natural habitat

Whistling Kite perching on a branch in open habitat

Whistling Kite perching on a branch in open habitat

Whistling Kite portrait

Whistling Kite portrait

Appearance & Identification

What do Whistling Kites look like?

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

Whistling Kite perching in trees in open habitat

How big are Whistling Kites?

Female whistling kites are significantly bigger and heavier than males, although there may be some overlap between the smallest females and the largest males.

  • Length: 51 cm to 59 cm (20 in to 23 in)
  • Wingspan: 120 cm to146 cm (47 in to 57 in).
  • Weight Male: 600 g to 750g (21 oz to 26 oz)
  • Weight Female: 750 g to 1000 g (26 oz to 35 oz)
Whistling Kite in-flight

Whistling Kite in-flight

Calls & Sounds

What sound does a Whistling Kite make?

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 Kite standing on the ground chattering


What do Whistling Kites eat?

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.

What do Whistling Kite chicks eat?

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 Kite in-flight searching for prey

Habitat & Distribution

What is the habitat of a Whistling Kite?

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.

What is the range of a Whistling Kite?

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.

Where do Whistling Kites live?

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.

How rare are Whistling Kites?

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.

Where can you see Whistling Kites in Australia?

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

Whistling Kite resting on a wooden post in natural habitat

Lifespan & Predation

How long do Whistling Kites live?

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.

What are the predators of Whistling Kites?

Whistling kites have few natural predators in the wild. The main threats come from human hunting or accidental encounters with manmade objects or vehicles.

Are Whistling Kites protected?

Throughout Australia, whistling kites are federally protected against being killed, injured, captured, or traded.

Are Whistling Kites endangered?

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

Whistling Kite looking out from the top of a tree

Nesting & Breeding

Where do Whistling Kites nest?

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.

When do Whistling Kites nest?

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.

What do Whistling Kite eggs look like?

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).

Do Whistling Kites mate for life?

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 Kite resting in the trees


Are Whistling Kites aggressive?

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

Whistling Kite perching in natural habitat


Do Whistling Kites migrate?

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.

Are Whistling Kites native to Australia?

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

Whistling Kite in-flight


Is a whistling kite an eagle?

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.

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Quick Facts


Scientific name:

Haliastur sphenurus

Other names:

Whistling Eagle, Whistling Hawk


Kites, hawks and eagles



51cm to 59cm


120cm to 146cm


600g to 1000g

Other birds in the Kites, hawks and eagles family

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