The Black, or Fork-tailed, Kite (Milvus migrans) is a hawk found mainly in Australia throughout the northern and inland parts of the country.
It’s a sociable raptor often seen around human settlements, where large flocks frequent rubbish dumps, stockyards, abbatoirs and roads.
This species is also found across much of the world , including Europe, Africa, Asia and New Guinea. In Europe the populations are highly migratory, hence the specific name migrans. Populations of the bird in Australia do not regularly migrate, but are known to occasionally ‘irrupt’ in areas beyond their usual range.
While seen occasionally about Toowoomba in small numbers or individuals, a large movement of these birds across town is from all accounts a fairly uncommon event. However, this is indeed what’s happened over the last month, with groups of these birds numbering up to perhaps a hundred, or even more, moving across the town. Other species of raptor have been seen at times moving with, or through, the groups.
While walking the dog in the park we spotted a large flock of these kites overhead, circling loosely on thermals and heading slowly east. As our small dog sat by itself in the open field, one bird suddenly appeared above us, peering intently at our little mutt.
Says raptor expert Stephen Debus, “The Black Kite’s most characteristic behaviour is its effortless circling in inland or tropical skies, in flocks sometimes numbering hundreds or even thousands. It can ascend beyond the range of human vision or suddenly appear overhead having descended from invisible heights.” Which is what this one pretty much did.
The dog was clearly threatened, peering up and growling before running to hide between human feet. It was hilarious to see this notorious bird-chaser on the receiving end for once!
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Thanks to Justin Shiels, Tom Tarrant, Mick Atzeni, Richard Jeremy.
*Thanks also to Ian Menkins for the great collective noun. While the Oxford Dictionary associates the use of the collective noun ‘kettle’ for a group of fish, the term has also been used for hawks when flying in large numbers (see 1, 2) I might be stretching things a bit by using it with kites (too bad, it sounds good).
+ Debus, S (1998). The Birds of Australia. A Field Guide. Oxford.
^ Pizzey, G. and Knight, F. (1997). The Graham Pizzey and Frank Knight Field Guide to the Birds of Australia.
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