Milvus migrans

The black kite (Milvus migrans) is a common raptor found on Kenyan skies almost all year round. In Kenya, most people refer to them as hawks, a general term for any raptor in Kenya. I used to call them hawks too until 2012 when I learnt of their true name.

Growing up, this bird was quite a bothersome when we were having our meat day lunch hours at school as it would, without warning, snatch your meatballs or sausages from you. It’s also a constant sight in garden events as they will always swarm the area on just the slightest sense of meat present. If you are not careful, their talons will leave scratches on your skin, especially if you hang on tightly to your piece of meat.

What you may not know is that there are three races of the black kite in Kenya, namely; Milvus migrans parasitus (Common black kite), Palearctic Milvus migrans migrans and the Red Sea race M.m. aegyptius (also Palearctic). General term for M.m.parasitus and M.m aegyptius is the Yellow-billed kite because of their prominent yellow bill.

Milvus migrans parasitus
• Found all over Kenya
• Present all year round
• Breeds between September – March
• Adult is warm brown with yellow bill and dark brown eyes; underside of flight feathers and tail faintly barred
• Juvenile is buffier, paler, and distinctly streaked below with a black bill
• Scavenger, often around human habitation and near water

Yellow billed kite
Yellow billed kite

Milvus migrans migrans
• Mainly found in central Kenya
• Present between October to March
• Adult has greyer, black streaked head/neck and a more prominent buff bar on upper wing coverts; black bill contrast with yellow cere; eyes brown, grey, pale yellow or ivory.
• Juvenile is paler with streaked white on head and underparts; pale area at base of primaries shows in flight
• Opportunistic feeders

Black Kite
Black Kite

Milvus migrans aegyptius
• More coastal
• Present between October to March
• Similar to M. migrans but browner on head and neck, more rufous below and on the distinctly barred tail
• Opportunistic feeders

yellow billed kite - Wikipedia
yellow billed kite – Wikipedia

This information (from Birds of Kenya and Northern Tanzania by Dale A. Zimmerman et.al) may sound confusing but it takes practice and time to differentiate them, it gets easier though.

People have come to co-exist with this species but I have noticed that their numbers are reducing, especially in towns, probably due to urbanisation and competition with the more vigorous pied crows. They are now more frequently present in green zones with tall trees in towns. Though of least concern under IUCN, I still consider it an important species and any change in their numbers should be duly noted since it will enable us to note any ecological change occurring.

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