White-tailed Kite Body IllustrationGambolin’ Man sent a note the other day about his first-ever sighting of a pair of white-tailed kites, raptors known for their tendency to hover, kite-like, over their prey.

Luckily, I had my binoculars, for they were a good 75 ft. away from my own perch on a rise of ground above a hidden labyrinth. Looking out east to big views of Mt. Diablo, northeastward to Brionesland, west across the bay to Mt. Tamalpais, I didn’t see them for a few seconds. . .but then, there they were. . .gorgeous hawk-sized birds, whose stark white chests, black shoulder streaks through grayish-white plumage, sharp yellow talons, and slanty black eyes. lend them an air of kingly superiority and calm detachment — clearly, these birds have adapted as specialized hunters, masters of their domain, and I’m lucky enough to be watching one of them tear apart a mouse atop this snag, pecking at it, drop a stringy gut and then slurp it up like a noodle, picking it apart in delicate jabs, eating while looking around, seemingly totally enjoying himself (him? her? couldn’t tell, and don’t know – they were identical in appearance, so perhaps they were not a nesting pair?).

I was asked what I knew about these raptors, and of course my knowledge was zip, but thanks to the wonders of the Internet I was able to find not only the picture above but a Web site brimming with bird info: WhatBird.com, an online field guide to North American birds. Its page on the white-tailed kite has many juicy details, such as:

Foraging and Feeding
Diet consists of voles, field mice, pocket gophers, ground squirrels, shrews, small birds, small snakes, lizards, frogs, grasshoppers, crickets, and beetles; hunts while hovering, often pausing to study the ground before swooping down on prey.

I found another page which said that these birds were nearly hunted to extinction by farmers who thought (mistakenly) that they preyed on chickens, but they’ve since made a strong comeback.

Here’s some cool shots at flickr.com