Hook Billed Kite: The Ultimate Guide

When one thinks of birds of prey, the first thing that comes to mind is often a windswept eagle soaring high in the mountains or swooping through the grey ravines of the rockies.

However there are birds of prey in various climates, and one of the most interesting is the Hook Billed Kite, which has fairly recently arrived in the southern US, mostly around southern Texas, having moved its range north out of Mexico and other central American countries.

The hook billed kite is a member of the Accipitridae family, which has many birds of prey within its umbrella such as hawks, eagles, kites, harriers and some vultures also.

These birds are known for their predatory behavior, large size and speed, however there are many differences between the different species within this family, and in this guide we’re going to help break down some detail about the Hook Billed Kite in particular, to help you better understand its appearance and behaviour.

This should in turn give you the opportunity to spot one of these beautiful birds for yourself if you’re lucky enough to get the chance.

Which leads us neatly onto the first and most important feature of this bird, its appearance.


The Hook Billed Kite is a relatively large bird, falling somewhere between the largest birds of prey and the smallest, and is considered a mid-sized bird of prey among most scientists and observers.

The bird is quite slender and has some easily recognizable features including a striped chest and belly, as well as a banded tail.

One thing that can make identification difficult is the fact that these birds have a fairly wide array of colors, possibly one of the widest variations among diurnal raptor species, which means that relying on color for identification isn’t a great idea.

There can also be a sizable difference in the size of the bird bill among various members of this species.

As a rule of thumb however, many Hook Billed Kites will be blackish or gray, through to brown or red depending on various characteristics such as sex and the local environment.

Of course, another signature of this species is the hooked bill that their name is taken from. The bill of these birds will often have yellow coloration on its underside, and these birds also have yellow feet.

Male Vs. Female

Generally the key distinction between males and females in this species is that the males tend to be black or grey more often, while the females tend to be brown or red, which means spotting a mating pair or distinguishing the sexes can be fairly easy.

However relying on color alone isn’t enough as these colarations can vary quite widely as mentioned previously.

Males will often have white barring on the chest and belly, while females will have grey heads. Younger birds will usually be a paler color and have thinner banding and lines on their chest and belly.

Are They Aggressive?

Generally these birds don’t have a reputation for being overly aggressive, particularly when compared to the more notorious species in their family.

Generally these birds are thought of as relatively relaxed, even sluggish tropical raptors which primarily feed on slugs and other insects that they are able to pick off quite easily and with little risk.

What Adaptations Do They Have?

Scientists have discovered that the bills of these species and their signature hook are actually adapted to a specific region, and the size and shape of their bills and its hook can vary quite widely to better prey upon the tree snails of a particular geographical area.

This makes them highly specialized and indicates the  pressure that a reliance on one primary food source can have on a species, as their physiology develops in accordance with the primary food source they rely upon. 

Breeding/Reproductive Behavior

Hook Billed Kites lay two or three eggs which are usually white with red-brown spots and markings. The nest is usually quite flimsy and features a simple platform raised on sticks, and is built by both sexes.

Interestingly, both the male and female will incubate the eggs also, meaning that they share the responsibility for guarding the nest and ensuring that the temperature of the eggs is well maintained and regulated.

This also means that they share the burden of hunting for the snails the whole family will rely on for sustenance during this period.

The young typically stay in the nest for around 35 to 45 days and are known as semialtrical young, which means that they don’t move around very much after hatching and aren’t capable of fending for themselves for some time, as opposed to precocial young who are able to move around more readily after hatching.

The young are fed by both the mother and father which further diversifies the responsibility for feeding and raising the young meaning it takes less of a toll on one of the parent birds.

Courtship displays involve two birds flying in small circles diving at each other and calling to each other.

Calls And Sounds

The call of a  hook billed kite is quite recognizable, and features a high pitched fluttering call that has between five or ten distinctive peaks delivered in quick succession.

The  sound is quite musical, and they are capable of other sounds too such as a rattling, staccato like ‘ke-ke-ke’ when feeling threatened or if a predator has been spotted. They can also whistle in 2 or 3 notes.

What Do They Eat/Diet

Their primary food source are tree slugs, which are abundant throughout their entire range in the tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas.

The birds will climb trees quite effectively seeking snails, and when it finds one it will use its feet to hold the snail in place while using its hooked bill to break open the shell and remove the snail for consumption.

While this is their primary source of food and it’s well documented that their numbers correlate mainly with the abundance of tree snails in an area, they are also known to prey on salamanders, frogs and other insects should the opportunity arise, making them well adapted to life in the tropical regions.

Where Do They Live/Habitat

hooked bill kite The Ultimate Guide

The furthest north these birds tend to roam is southern Texas, and from here they range south along both the coasts of Mexico and Central America, through Colombia and into South America.

West of the Andes they can be found in Colombia and Ecuador, while they can also be seen in southern Brazil, Bolivia, and even northern Argentina.

Some Caribbean countries also have this bird in their skies, including Cuba, Trinidad and Grenada.

What Are Their Nesting Habits?

The nest is quite flimsy and is made of sticks which are fashioned into a simple platform. Both male and female birds participate in the building of the nest.

Nesting most often occurs in May and June, and are built around 15 to 25 feet high in a range of trees.

How Long Do They Live/Lifespan

Little is known about the full lifespan of these birds. Some believe that they live for around 10 years which is comparable to most snail kites, however others suggest 25 to 30 years which is more in line with most kite species.

It’s hard to say exactly how long they will live however and there are a range of reasons why an individual may live longer or die younger depending on the pressures of their habitat.

What Predators Do They Have?

No known predators, except for opportunists and larger birds which are desperate, however this is rare.

What Are Their Feathers Like?

Feathers are quite uniform and streamlined, but not particularly large given their mid-size among the Accpitridae family.

What Does Their Poop Look Like?

The poops of this bird haven’t been studied in depth so it’s difficult to say for certain what  they will look like, however it’s likely they will change quite dramatically depending on what the bird is feeding on.

Do They Migrate?

These birds do not migrate and are a permanent resident in their primary range and habitat. This is likely because the climate in their range doesn’t change very much between seasons, meaning there’s no requirement to seek warmer climes.

Conservation Status

These birds are registered as least concern on the conservation classification meaning they are in no immediate danger of extinction, although as with all tropical species, their habitat is being devastated by industry which is undoubtedly affecting their numbers.

Fun Facts

The whistle of this bird is very distinctive and is quite similar to the whistle of the American Oriole!