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What is the Bird Called a Kite?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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A kite is a raptor in the family Accipitridae, along with hawks, eagles, and other birds of prey. The graceful soaring look of a kite in flight is said to be quite stunning to look at; the man-made flying objects known as kites take their names from this bird. Kites can be found on most continents, with three subfamilies representing an array of species. In addition to being seen in the wild, kites can also be seen in aviaries at major zoos; some zoos even offer a bird of prey visiting hour for people who want to interact more personally with these birds.

The kites share several traits as a group. The first is that the birds have very weak legs, and as a result they spend a great deal of time in the air. Kites also have small heads, short beaks, and narrow wings and tails; their tails can look almost like streamers or the tail of a child's kite when the birds are in motion. The face of a kite is also typically partly bare, because the birds feed primarily on carrion, and the bare flesh makes cleanup much easier. Some kites also hunt small mammals and reptiles, depending on the species.

In flight, kites tend to flap once and glide for a long distance before flapping their wings again. While gliding, the wings are tucked behind the bird to create minimal air resistance so that the birds seem to float through the air. Kites are also diurnal, meaning that they are active during the day and they sleep at night.

The breeding habits of kites vary, depending on the species. Many build large untidy nests in high trees, and the parents typically care for their young together, although the female does most of the brooding. The young rely on their parents for several months as they learn to fly and seek out food, and then they are encouraged to strike out on their own. One interesting habit of many kites is that the birds are hoarders; they will pick up artifacts along their travels and add them to their nests. As a result, the nest of a kite can include some very peculiar items, ranging from cellophane bags to keys.

Because kites are flexible eaters, the population of kites around the world is fairly stable. They are not as subject to pressures like overhunting by humans as other raptors are, although habitat depletion can certainly take its toll on a kite population. These adaptable eaters can be found scavenging everywhere from garbage heaps to open plains.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All Things Nature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon82861 — On May 07, 2010

Ocala, Florida. State Highway 40 going east past hwy 140 saw a kite (7 a.m.) maybe two for several days circling overhead.

I would like to know what they were doing? Are they nesting? There's plenty of road kill around. Sincerely, Barbara S.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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