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With a distribution that spreads over four continents, the black kite (Milvus migrans) is probably the world’s most abundant bird of prey. Not surprisingly for a species with such a colossal range, up to 12 subspecies have been described, with between six and eight commonly recognised. Despite their shared name, none of these subspecies are actually black, but rather have plumage that varies from moderate to dark brown, with irregular light-brown and rufous markings. The brown to greyish-white head often appears paler than the rest of the body, while the cere (bare patch of skin at the base of the bill) is yellow). Although the bill is typically black through most of its range, the African subspecies tend to have yellow bills, hence the species’ alternative name. In flight, the long, shallow-forked tail is conspicuous and the feathers on the outer edge of the wings appear ‘open fingered’ (4) (5). The female is marginally larger than the male but otherwise the sexes are very similar, while the juveniles are only slightly paler and less uniform in colouration.

Black Kite Subspecies

  • European Black Kite (Milvus migrans migrans)
  • Black-Eared Kite (Milvus migrans lineatus)
  • Small Indian Kite (Milvus migrans govinda)
  • Fork-Tailed Kite (Milvus migrans affinis)
  • Taiwan Kite (Milvus migrans formosanus)

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