The black kite is quite common in Russia. They are thermophilic, and therefore they fly away to warm lands to spend the winter, but in summer their lingering melodious cries are constantly heard in the skies, and these birds themselves slowly soar in the air for a long time, making only rare flapping of their wings. They do not like to hunt, they prefer to eat carrion and waste.
Origin of the species and description
The black kite was described P Boddert in 1783 and received the Latin name Milvus migrans. A number of subspecies of this bird stand out, two can be found in Russia: migrans with a light head, lives in Europe and the European part of Russia; lineatus inhabits the territories east of the Urals.
Previously, kites, like other large birds, were classified as falconiformes, but then scientists found that the hawk-like order should also be distinguished – although they have features that bring them closer to falconiformes, another evolutionary line led to their emergence. It is to this detachment that kites are attributed. It, along with some others, for example, owls and crayfishes, belongs to the clade of African birds, named after its place of origin. This branch stood out immediately after the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction, or even immediately before it.
Video: Black Kite
The most ancient fossils are not yet hawk-like, but representatives of the hawk-like group, are about 50 million years old and belong to a bird called Masiliraptor. Gradually, the appearance of the representatives of the detachment approached modern ones, and 30 million years ago, the now known genera began to appear. The kites themselves arose relatively recently: the oldest find is 1.8 million years old, and this is the already extinct species Milvus pygmaeus – that is, the black kite species arose even later.
An interesting fact: kites can evolve not just quickly, but very quickly, literally before our eyes – for example, due to the appearance of a new species of snails in the USA, the slug-eating kites that lived there have changed in two generations. The new snails turned out to be five times larger than usual ones and it was inconvenient for kites to grab them with their beak – they constantly dropped their prey.
As a result, the beak increased, as did the mass of the bird as a whole, which made it possible to significantly increase the survival rate of chicks (from 9 to 62%). The changes took place directly in the DNA of the bird. As a result, the population of slug-eaters, which were previously on the verge of extinction, has grown significantly in less than a decade.
Appearance and features
Although the kite seems large in flight, in reality it is not so big: it is 40-60 cm long and weighs from 800 to 1,200 grams. That is, in size and weight, it is inferior to the crows of the corvus corax species. But his wings are large, almost like the whole body – 40-55 cm, and their span can exceed one and a half meters. Throughout its build, the kite seems light due to the long wings and tail. His legs are short and weak – he does not use them much. Adult kites are dark brown in color, appear black from a distance. Juveniles are lighter and may be brown. The head is lighter than the rest of the body, grayish.
The whole view of the kite is very expressive and predatory, the gaze is especially prominent: the eyes look straight ahead, and at the same time it looks as if it is always frowning. It is easy to distinguish it from other large birds even from a distance by its forked tail. During the flight, the wings are on the same plane with the body, it just soars a lot, making only rare flaps of the wings.
It steers with the help of its tail, it can perform quite complex figures for its size, although it cannot be compared with the most nimble and maneuverable birds. Korshunov is easy to recognize by their melodic voice – sometimes they produce a long trill that sounds like “yurl-yurrl-yuurrrl”. Basically, they make a different sound – a short repeating “ki-ki-ki-ki”. There are also a whole range of other sounds, which can be heard much less often, because kites make them only in special situations.
Where does the black kite live?
Its range includes large spaces, which can be divided into three categories: territories in which they live year-round, summer nesting places, wintering places. That is, some of the kites are non-migratory, but mostly they fly away for the winter.
They live all year round in:
- New Guinea;
- Southeast Asia;
Only for nesting they fly to the Palearctic – in winter they are cold there. In summer, kites live in the following territories:
- a significant part of Russia;
- Central Asia;
- most of Europe ;
- Northwest Africa.
In part, the territories in which they winter coincide with those where permanent populations of kites live, but more often they differ due to the need to look for free territory. So, most of the kites fly to winter in African countries south of the Sahara, in which the permanent population is relatively small. The same applies to the Middle East: Syria, Iraq, southern Iran – in the summer there are no or few black kites there. Mostly young individuals spend the summer there, over time they also begin to fly north.
In Russia, they live on vast territories, but unevenly: in the northern taiga they are relatively rare, in the western part and in the Urals they are more frequent, and the steppe regions are especially densely populated. It is unusual for large birds of prey that kites gather in large flocks for migration. They prefer to settle in mixed landscapes, that is, those where there are bushes and trees, but also open spaces. They also live in the forests. As a rule, kites can be found near water bodies, and often they also settle near settlements. They can even nest right in cities, including large ones.
Now you know where the black kite is found. Let's find out what this predator eats.
What does the black kite eat?
The bird can hunt well, but usually prefers not to and look for other ways to find food. She is quite resourceful, for example, often just following people or animals and noticing where they find food. So, kites can follow the fishermen, and they direct them to fishing places. But even having found a place to eat, they often do not hurry to hunt on their own, but wait until something is left for them.
They easily feed on various garbage and carrion – this is the basis of their diet. Often at once a lot of kites circle around the slaughterhouses, waiting for the garbage, or even arrive at the garbage heaps. Animals of comparable sizes are not hunted due to the fact that their paws are rather weak, and they cannot carry away large prey: it is difficult for them to hold it with their short fingers. A kite can only grab a chick or a fish the size of a perch.
From live prey they catch:
- aquatic invertebrates;
- worms .
For the most part, these live in or near water. That is why kites settle near water bodies, because there is more prey there, and it is easier to catch it – the main factor for this bird. And even during the hunt, they mostly catch sick and weak animals. This is more characteristic of kites than other predators: they look at prey in advance and determine who will have to spend less effort to catch. Therefore, they are very useful, and the population of animals living next to them does not suffer much quantitatively, since they almost do not hunt healthy ones, while improving qualitatively.
At the same time, they are sometimes considered as pests: if there are a lot of kites in the area, chickens, ducklings, goslings can suffer from them. These cunning birds can also follow tourists and, as soon as they move away from supplies, they immediately try to steal something. And almost everything suits them for food, from sausages and meatballs to dry pasta and cereals.
Peculiarities of character and lifestyle
Kites are able to soar in the sky for a long time without flapping their wings at all – and this is very consistent with their character, because they are slow and do not like to make unnecessary movements. They spend most of the day like this, slowly and lazily soaring in the air. Sometimes they rise to such a great height that they can hardly be distinguished from the ground. They devote the other part of the day to searching for food: they fly around their entire site and look out first of all for carrion, because you don’t need to hunt for it. Whether the mouse died, the fishermen left the fish offal on the shore, or the river threw the corpse of an animal on it – for the kite, all this is food.
If he does not find such gifts, then he looks closely at the still living animals. He especially likes to look for wounded animals that have left the hunters, but weakened. Although healthy animals are also endangered – it is only necessary for some bird to gape, and the kite will immediately grab it: it is fast and very dexterous. The kite is a territorial bird and must have its own hunting ground. But most often there are not enough of them for everyone, some are left without their own land and they have to look for food on the “lands” belonging to others. This can lead to fights between birds. The kite lives 14-18 years old, you can also meet old birds that have stretched 25-28 years, and in captivity they can even live up to 35-38.
Interesting fact: The presence of decorations at the kite's nest indicates its strength: the more there are, and the brighter they are, the stronger the bird. But other kites also attack the owners of the most beautiful nests more violently, if at all they decide to do so. If the kite is weak and does not want to fight, it leaves the nest undecorated.
Social Structure and Reproduction
The breeding season begins in spring, immediately after the return of migratory birds to the north. Kites build nests on tall trees and choose places at a height of 10-12 m. They try to arrange the nest so that it is inconspicuous, prefer quiet parts of the forest, where someone rarely visits. They can also nest on rocks. The nest itself can be quite large – 0.6-1.2 m in diameter, and up to half a meter in height, in rare cases even higher. The bird remembers the location of the nest and returns to it in the following years until it becomes too old and unreliable. At the same time, from year to year the nest is being completed and it is getting bigger.
Rags, sticks, grass and various garbage that we managed to find are used as material for it. Nests can be located both at a distance from each other, and densely, several dozen on neighboring trees – the second is more typical for areas of permanent habitation. In one clutch, usually from 2 to 4 eggs, the shell is white, almost always with brown spots on it. The eggs are incubated by the female, while the male carries food and protects the nest.
Hatching time – 4-5 weeks. During this period, the female tries to behave cautiously. If a person appears nearby, he can lie low so as not to give him away just passing by. Or it takes off in advance and circles at a small distance, watching it, sometimes screaming in alarm. If he decides that they are going to attack the nest, he becomes aggressive and attacks the offender: he dives menacingly at him or even tries to tear his face with his claws and peck at the back of the head. If a person obviously specially approached the nest and was able to see it, the kites remember it and can pursue it.
There are cases when city birds day after day lay in wait for such people and tried to attack, even though they did not cause any damage to the nest and its inhabitants. But such aggression is more distinguished by Indian and African individuals, who constantly live in the south, and nesting in Russia are calmer. The first fluff in chicks is reddish-brown, the second is gray. Immediately after birth, they are very aggressive, fighting among themselves, which can lead to the death of those who are weaker – this usually happens if there are a lot of them.
By 5-6 weeks, they begin to get out of the nest, and soon they make their first attempts to fly. By two months they become large enough to live separately, and by autumn they already grow almost to the size of an adult bird and usually fly south among the last ones – the kites start flying back in August and continue until mid-autumn.
Natural enemies of black kites
There are no predators purposefully hunting for kites. Many other birds of prey, if settled next to them, get along normally, for example, buzzards, spotted eagles, goshawks. At the same time, attacks on kites by larger birds, such as eagles or gyrfalcons, are possible, but they are relatively rare. More often, conflicts arise between the kites themselves, in such fights they can cause serious damage to each other.
Even if both birds remained alive, wounds can prevent them from hunting and still lead to death – more people die from the claws of fellow kites than from other birds. But this applies to adults, chicks and eggs are threatened not only, and not even so much by large predators, but primarily by crows. These birds have a great propensity to destroy nests, and not even always for food, sometimes they do it already full.
It is worthwhile for the kites to be distracted for a while, and the crows are already right there. Also, weasels and martens can be a threat to their nests. But still, a much larger number of kites die from human activities, primarily due to poisoning.
Interesting fact: There are especially many kites in India, and they are famous for their impudence. Dozens of these birds are on duty at the markets all the time, and as soon as someone throws out food, they swoop in and snatch prey from each other. And they are not satisfied with this, but snatch food directly from trays in eateries, sometimes even from people's hands.
Species population and status
The species is not fearful – its range is very wide, and in total a large number of black kites live on the planet. However, their numbers are declining, and at a fairly rapid pace. If in some habitats the population remains stable, in others factors come into play that lead to its decline – usually they are associated with human activities.
Thus, a significant reduction in the previously numerous population of Chinese kites was noted – this is due to the deteriorating ecology in the country, as well as the fact that the birds are simply poisoned as pests. Even more are accidentally poisoned due to the activities of the chemical industry: an excessively high concentration of mercury is found in the bodies of many dead birds.
This also affects the number of kites in those countries where they fly to nesting places, primarily in Russia. In particular, their population has decreased in the European part of the country, which used to be very numerous – at the same time, there are few threats to birds directly in Russia, and additional measures to protect them will not bring a serious effect. It is necessary that these measures be taken in those countries where birds winter, but so far somewhere they do not exist at all, and somewhere they are insufficient. So far, a further decline in the number of kites is very likely with the prospect of falling into the number of rare species in a few decades.
Although the black kite is sometimes able to steal chickens and sausage from tourists, they do not cause much harm to people, and the benefits of them outweighs it: they eat carrion and catch sick animals. They do not show aggression towards people, at least until they try to get to their nests.