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Letter-winged Kite - BirdForum Opus

Photo © by Peter Day
Birdsville Track, Queensland, Australia, July 2018
Photo by Mat & Cathy
Near Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia, September 2005
Elanus scriptus


34–37 cm

  • White head, tail and underparts
  • Pale grey above
  • Black shoulder patch
  • Red eyes with black eye patches
  • Flesh coloured legs

The female bird has a greyer crown

Similar Species

Black 'W' shape across the underside of its long, broad white wings gives the bird its name and is key to distinguish this bird from the similar Black-shouldered Kite.


Drier parts of Australia. Occurs in the interior of the continent particularly from the Barkly Tableland of Northern Territory to the Lake Eyre Basin of South Australia.

Their range is governed by population fluctuations in the Long-haired Rat (Rattus villosissimus) and when rat numbers are high the kites undergo irruptive movements extending range further west and south.


This is a monotypic species[1], and one of only four species in the Genus Elanus.


Open woodland, grasslands with scattered trees, often along watercourses.


A nocturnal hunter.


Their diet consists mostly of small rodents (particularly rats) and marsupials.


The nest is made of small sticks and is lined with leaves and often rat fur or regurgitated pellets. The female is mostly responsible for incubation and also broods and cares for the young. The male delivers food for the family.

They often nest in colonies.


Resident, nomadic and irruptive.


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2014. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: Version 6.9., with updates to August 2014. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive (retrieved September 2014)
  3. BF Member observations
  4. Birds in Backyards

Recommended Citation

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