Black-winged Kite or Black-shouldered Kite at Varthur Lake, Bangalore

TL;DR – What colour are a Black-winged Kite’s eyes?

The Black-winged Kite, also known as the Black-shouldered Kite, is a delightful sight for any bird enthusiast to spot. While it’s not exactly rare, I’d hesitate to label it as common, given that many bird species face the threat of dwindling habitats. Nonetheless, the Black-winged Kite’s striking presence and captivating demeanour always warrant a closer look.

An adult Black-winged Kite

Most of the time, when we admire an adult Black-winged Kite, it’s not possible to ignore the piercing blood-red irises of its eyes. Highlighted by dark eyebrows and eye patches, the eyes stand out.

While birding at Varthur Lake in early February 2024, we observed a young bird, its still-pale plumage lacking the striking contrast of an adult. As I photographed it, I was struck by the eyes — they were not red, but yellowish-orange. At first, I thought that maybe the sexes had eyes of different colours, as in the case of other raptors like the Shikra. But I could find no documentation on this. So, I did the next best thing (which should really have been the first thing to do) — consult my bible in this department, Rishad Naoroji’s excellent book, Birds Of Prey of The Indian Subcontinent.

Note the deep-red eyes of this adult Black-winged Kite

Poring over the copious field notes in the book, I had a moment of realisation. Naoroji notes that the colour of the eyes darkens with age. A juvenile bird may have yellow eyes, which turns to orange in subadults and to deep red in adults. I had always overlooked this aspect of the Black-winged Kite, taking its eyes for granted. This explained the mystery.

That beautiful Black-winged Kite, its feathers fluffed like a cardigan against the chilly morning breeze, focused its alert eyes on a Common Hawk-cuckoo that had descended onto the path to pick up a hairy caterpillar. Then it spotted us and lifted off reluctantly into the air.



  • Beej

    Founder-editor of The Green Ogre, Beej began this blog as a solo writing project in 2006. A communications professional, he has worked as a corporate storyteller, journalist, travel writer, cartoonist and photo-blogger. He was formerly the founder-editor of Yahoo India's travel site.

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