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Elanus caeruleus (Black-shouldered kite) 

Blouvalk [Afrikaans]; Umdlampuku, Unongwevana [Xhosa]; Tuyu (also applied to Dickinson's kestrel) [Kwangali]; Phakoana-mafieloana, Phakoana-tšooana, Phakoana-tšoana [South Sotho]; Rukodzi (generic name for a small raptor such as falcon or sparrowhawk) [Shona]; Lohheyane (generic term for small hawks) [Swazi]; Nwarikapanyana [Tsonga]; Phakalane, Segôôtsane (generic terms for some of the smaller raptors) [Tswana]; Grijze wouw [Dutch]; Élanion blanc [French]; Gleitaar [German]; Peneireiro-cinzento [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Falconiformes > Family: Accipitridae

Elanus caeruleus (Black-shouldered kite)  Elanus caeruleus (Black-shouldered kite) 

Black-shouldered kite. [photo Callie de Wet ©]

Black-shouldered kite, West Coast National Park, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

Distribution and habitat

Occurs in India, South-East Asia, south-western Europe and across sub-Saharan Africa, from southern Mauritania to Eritrea south to southern Africa. Here it is very common across the region, especially in South Africa, north-eastern Zimbabwe and central Botswana. It occurs in most habitats, but generally prefers grassland, transformed fynbos and cultivated land. It is largely absent from closed woodland, forest and desert.

Distribution of Black-shouldered kite in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Predators and parasites

It has been recorded as prey of the following animals:

Movements and migrations

Resident and nomadic, sometimes moving from southern Africa to the tropics; females are generally more nomadic than males.


It mainly eats rodents, often hunting by hovering in the air, searching for prey. Once it has an animal singled out, it drops to the ground to grab its prey. It also hunts from a perch, flying from one position to another before diving to the ground. Hover-hunting is less energy efficient but slightly more successful than hunting from a perch, also allowing it to forage in areas without perches. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:


  • Monogamous, territorial solitary nester, with females selecting male based on the quality of his territory.
  • The nest (see image below) is built by both sexes in about 10-13 days, consisting of a flimsy platform of sticks lined with dry grass, usually about 30 cm wide and 7-10 cm deep. It is typically placed as high as possible in the tree canopy, often in Acacia or another thorny tree but sometimes an alien tree such as Eucalyptus or pine (Pinus). It may also use man-made structures, such as power pylons and utility poles.
Elanus caeruleus (Black-shouldered kite)   

Black-shouldered kite at its nest with two chicks, Nylsvley, South Africa. [photo Warwick Tarboton ©]

  • Egg-laying season is year-round, peaking from July-November in the Western and Eastern Cape and from March-April elsewhere.
  • It lays 2-6 eggs, which are mainly incubated by the female for about 30-33 days.
  • The chicks are brooded by the female for the first 14 days or so of their lives, while the male does all the hunting, handing food to the female who then feeds the chicks. The young make their first flights at about 33-37 days old, remaining in the nest for another six days or so. They become fully independent about 42-70 days later. The parents vigorously defend the nest, repeatedly attacking intruders, such as humans.


Not threatened, in fact it has greatly benefited from agriculture, bush clearance and the introduction of alien trees, which are used for nesting in otherwise treeless areas.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.