Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
White-tailed Kite - Elanus leucurus
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General Comments The White-tailed Kite is another beautiful raptor, with a very graceful flight, hovering over fields and dropping slowly but quietly onto prey. That North Carolina and many other Eastern states have records of this hawk is remarkable, in that it is a very rare and poorly known breeder in peninsular Florida, and otherwise it ranges north only to coastal Texas and the West Coast. Also, unlike the Swallow-tailed Kite (which is strongly migratory), the White-tailed Kite is mostly non-migratory. Under what circumstances the birds range several states north of Florida is not known, as records do not correlate to hurricanes or other obvious weather patterns. Its taxonomy has been somewhat unsettled, in that it was originally named the White-tailed Kite, and then lumped with an African taxon under the common name of Black-shouldered Kite. Only since the mid-1990's was the American taxon re-split and named once again as White-tailed Kite. The species is primarily a bird of wide open country -- dry prairies in Florida, coastal prairies and ranchland in Texas, and extensive fields and grasslands in California and Oregon. There are four accepted state records, plus at least three other reports that were not accepted by the NC BRC. Confusion with male Northern Harrier is likely the reason for failure to accept certain reports.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Accidental visitor; three accepted records. One seen near Wilmington, 3 Jan 1957* [Chat 21:70-71 link]; one photographed at Fort Fisher (New Hanover), 8 Apr 1989* (Am. Birds 43:1304); and one seen at Coinjock (Currituck), 16 May 2001* [Chat 66:1-6 link], (Am. Birds 55:289).
Piedmont No accepted records. There is one published report mentioned in Pearson et al. (1959).
Mountains One record: an adult seen at the Shining Rock Wilderness, 23 Jul 1993* [Chat 59:26-27 link].
Finding Tips
Attribution LeGrand[2018-02-01], LeGrand[2013-12-08], LeGrand[2012-05-15]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.