On the Wing: Black-shouldered Kite

An attractive raptor even while perched, the Black-shouldered Kite is hard to forget once spotted hovering

For a long time after I learned to identify this bird, also called the Black-winged Kite to differentiate it from the Australian  Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus axillaris), I did not witness its flight. During the winter dusk near my village in Rae Bareli, I always saw it hover over potential prey that it had spotted on the ground. All you needed was to scan the horizon and, eight times out of 10, you could spot this bird hovering. The kite hovers over open scrub or grassland patches with its wings held high up and with slow wingbeats, beginning quite high up and gently gliding lower before it starts hovering again. This, presumably, is a tactic to get closer to its prey and fix its location on the ground. Sometimes the bird shifts sideways while still hovering. The action is repeated 2-5 times after which the raptor either swoops down or flies off to locate another quarry – usually lizards and rodents.
Its flight is similar to its hover — gentle wing-beats punctuated by long glides. On this occasion, I first saw it perch on a tree stump as the wind gently caressed its soft white down feathers. It fixed me with its sparkling red eyes and after a beat took off gently, skimmed the tops of the thorny acacias and flapped out of view.
This elegant raptor, with its diagnostic grayish-black shoulder patch and red, owl-like iris, is found throughout India except for the country’s extremities.

Text and photos by Sahastrarashmi
Read all posts in our On the Wing series 

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