Kite, the common name of many birds of prey belonging to the subfamily milvince, characterized by moderate size, slender figure, short and weak bill with hooked and acute tip and sinuated margins, nostrils basal and lateral, wings long and pointed, tail long, tarsi slender and rather short, toes moderate, broad, and padded. Many of the genera need only be mentioned here; among them, according to Gray, are baza (Hodgs.), from India, its archipelago, and Australia; axicida (Swains.), from W. Africa; pernis (Cuv.), including the old world honey buzzards (see Buzzard), of which P. apivorus (Selb.) is a well known European representative; cymindis (Cuv.) and gampsonyx (Vigors), from tropical America. - Among the American kites belongs the genus nauclerus (Vig.), with long pointed wings and deeply forked tail. The swallow-tailed kite (N.fur-catus, Linn.) is about 2 ft. long, with an extent of wings of 4 1/3 ft.; the back, wings, and tail are black, with a metallic lustre, purple on the wing coverts; head, neck, under wing coverts, base of secondaries, and lower parts white; tarsi and toes greenish blue; bill horn color.
This species is found in the southern Atlantic states, and in the interior from Texas to Wisconsin; it is accidental in Europe. The flight of this bird is exceedingly graceful and rapid. Flocks of 15 or 20 are often seen; they arrive in the gulf states early in April, probably from Mexico and Central America, and disappear in September; they are shy, on the wing during most of the day, and at night resting on the highest trees; they feed during flight, and in calm weather soar to an immense height in pursuit of large insects; the gait on the ground is very awkward. The nest resembles that of the crow, and is usually placed in the top of a tall tree; the eggs, four to six, are greenish white, with irregular brown blotches at the larger end. - In the genus elanus (Sav.), found in the warmer parts of the globe, belongs the white-tailed or black-shouldered kite (E. leucu-rus, Vieill.); the length is about 16 in. and the extent of wings about 3 1/2 ft., in the female; the wings are long and pointed, but the tail is moderate and emarginated; the head, tail, and under parts are white; above light ashy, with an oblong black patch on the shoulder formed by the lesser wing coverts; inferior wing coverts white, with a smaller black patch; the middle tail feathers are light ashy; bill dark; tarsi and toes yellow.
It is found in the southern and western states, and in South America; rarely seen north of South Carolina on the Atlantic coast, it occurs considerably further north on the Pacific. It flies very high, and is not easily approached in its favorite marshy retreats; it feeds on small birds and large insects, especially orthoptera, and is very bold in their pursuit. The Mississippi kite (ictinia Mississipiensis, Wilson), of the southern states, Texas, and New Mexico, a smaller species, has been described under Buzzard. A species of the genus rostrhamus (Lesson), generally South American, has been found breeding in Florida; this is the black kite (R. social) ablis, Vieill.), remarkable for its slender and much hooked bill; it is about 16 in. long, of a black color, with base of tail and its under coverts white; the young birds are more brownish and yellow; it preys principally on reptiles, and perches on the loftiest trees. - Of the kites of the old world, the best known is the common milvus regalis (Briss.) of Europe, of a reddish brown color above, with blackish longitudinal streaks, and the lower parts light brownish red with narrower streaks; the female is about 26 in. long, with an extent of wings of 5 1/4 ft.
The flight is remarkably powerful and elegant; the food consists of small quadrupeds, birds, reptiles, insects, carrion, and even fish. It is found in Europe, N. Africa, and W. Asia, in almost all regions, both wild and inhabited; it sometimes steals a young chicken when the hen is off her guard, but dares not make a direct attack in her presence.
Mississippi Kite (Ictinia Mississipiensis).