The black kite (Milvus migrans) is an iconic and familiar occupant of Hong Kong’s skies. This striking, medium sized raptor can be seen throughout Hong Kong, but tends to favor more urban areas particularly near the coast. It is also one of the most widely distributed birds of prey in the world.
Description and Distribution
Black kites have a generally brown plumage. Their lower parts and head and neck are a bit lighter brown, while the outer flight feathers are black. The front of the face and beak area are practically white, but eventually give way to a black tip on the beak. They can be easily identified (at least in Hong Kong) in flight by their deep v-shaped tail.
The local subspecies lineatus is found throughout southern China and Japan, and is more specifically referred to as the Black-eared kite, but it is still currently considered only a subspecies of black kite rather than a full species in its own right.
Behavior and Ecology
Black winged kites spend their days riding on thermal currents hunting and scavenging. When resting, they will perch on large seaside structures in Hong Kong including ferry piers, satelite dishes, buildings, and of course trees.
They are successful opportunists and will eat live prey, carrion, and even household refuse, eventually leading some British soldiers in Asia to affectionately nickname it the “shite-hawk.” They will occasionally swoop down and take food from humans, which is something that I’ve witnessed at Victoria Peak Garden when a black kite swooped down on a few unsuspecting picnicker’s blanket.
Their only known predator is the Eurasian Eagle-owl.