Letter-Winged Kite: The Ultimate Guide

If you’ve ever been to Australia and seen the Letter-Winged Kite, then you’ll certainly have done a double-take. This bird is one of the most stunning, probably not just in terms of birds, but the whole animal kingdom.

Let’s delve a little deeper, shall we?

This bird has a very distinctive M-shaped pattern on the underside of its wings which you can distinguish easily when it’s in flight. It also has vibrant red eyes with dark rings underneath them.

This bird is a master at killing rodents and is often bred by humans expressly for this purpose.

This bird will roost in thick trees during the day, coming out at night to feed, hunt and mate. This has jumped up the list of threatened species during recent years. It hunts by floating above the grasslands and meadows.

But where can you find this bird in the wild? What makes the Letter-Winged Kite so amazing? Where does it breed and during what months? How has it evolved to become the deadly predator that it is today? What is the difference between the male and the female of the species?

Well, if you want the answers to all these queries regarding the Letter-Winged Kite, then we would suggest you keep reading. We have the complete profile of this wonderful creature, including its mating habits and how many there are left in the wild.


This creature has a very brilliant, almost eye-watering white color. It is about 14 inches in length and has a wingspan of anywhere between 33 and 39 inches. As with a lot of these species of bird, the female is slightly larger than the male, weighing around 260 grams.

The letter-winged kite is called so because it has an M-shape on the underside of its wing that is only really visible when the animal is flying. The legs are a pink fleshy color, while the tail is grey color and the tail has blank fringing.

The juvenile of this species usually has a lower throat and head than the adult, with a browny band that runs across the back of the neck. The bill of the youngling is more browny, growing darker with age.

Male Vs Female

As with most species of bird, the female is slightly larger than the male. The female has a much greyer crown and her plumage is much darker overall. The female also has a lighter beak than the male.

Are They Aggressive?

This bird is not at all aggressive to humans, although sometimes it has been known to make a snatch for human leftovers. This bird is used to aggressively keep the rodent numbers very low.

What Adaptations Do They Have?

This bird has been specifically raised to hunt the long-haired rat, which is its primary prey. To this end, they have developed sharp talons and beaks for the purposes of killing and stripping their prey of flesh.

They also use their beaks to dig up the ground to get to their ratty prey.

They have also been known to share roosting spots with other rodent hunters such as barn owls and eastern grass owls. They will also share a habitat with dingoes and feral cats. On average, this bird will tuck into one rodent per day.

Breeding/reproduction Behaviour

The Letter-Winged kite will often breed in areas of Central Australia, especially in places such as Queensland and Banka Banka Station. They will nest close to spotted harriers and black kites. This bird will often pair bond and stay wedded to the same mate for life.

The males will often show an aerial display to get the female’s attention, with males trying to outdo each other to see who can fly the highest. The male and female will soon circle each other, after which mating occurs.

A clutch of eggs from this bird usually consists of around 3 or 4 eggs, although there have been reported instances of around 5 or 6 eggs.

The eggs are dull white in color and they are heavier around the top end. The female incubates them for around 30 days, although the length of this will vary.

Their Calls/Sounds

This bird has been known to give off a call that sounds not too dissimilar from a chicken. They will be largely silent during the day but will soon start to make a noise during the rising of the moon.

The male and female in a pairing will often scrape, which is when they call each other during the night.

The male will sometimes whilst in flight to sound the alarm if there is a predator near the nest.

What Do They Eat? (Diet)

The main prey for this animal is the long-haired rat, which it often hunts in abundance. This bird was actually raised for hunting and killing these pests, which have often been seen to overrun certain areas in Australia.

The regular kite has been known to hunt various other rats, including the house mouse and the hopping mouse. However, this kite seems to only attack the long-haired rat.

In fact, studies have shown that if the rat population increases in an area with Letter-Winged Kites, then the bird population will increase to correspond with that.

Where Do They Live? (Habitat)

Letter-Winged Kite

This creature lives exclusively in Australia, living in semi-arid and grassy lands that often contain plenty of prey for them to hunt. These are popular in areas like Queensland, Townsville and Stadbroke Island. This is more rarely found in places like New South Wales.

The increased rainfall often leads to an increase in rodent numbers, which will in turn lead to an explosion in the letter-winged kite population. If the conditions are right, then this kite population might increase by tenfold.

If the rodent numbers start to fall, this will lead to the kite population to starve, which will in turn lead to a decrease in numbers.

What Are Their Nesting Habits?

They will often nest in dense foliage around the Queensland area. These birds will often nest in large colonies of around 50 pairs of birds. This is to increase its defenses against attacks from other birds.

These kites often nest near other different types of birds such as black kites, spotted harriers, whistling kites and brown falcons.

How long Do They Live (Lifespan)

These kites do not live as long as some other breeds, with the average lifespan in the wild being around 2 years. In captivity, however, these birds have been recorded living for much longer.

What Predators Do They Have?

There are larger birds that have been reported as hunting these smaller ones, including the black falcons, who can often be seen preying on the smaller kites.

Another significant cause of damage can be forestation by humans, although this is less common than it used to be.

What Are Their Feathers Like?

These birds have soft white feathers on the upper side, with grey and black spots in other parts of the body. The male plumage will be slightly darker than the female, who has more of a brown texture.

What Does Their Poop Look Like?

This bird’s poop is generally white and stringy and you can often find it in places where the bird congregates. Sometimes trackers of these birds use their droppings to find out where they are nesting.

Because these birds nest in large numbers, there’s often plenty of poop lying around under their nests.

Do They Migrate?

This bird will fly to warmer climates when the colder weather sets in. This animal will often be found in the southern grasslands of Australia during winter and will fly to the breeding grounds more inland during the summer.

However, this animal will also flock to wherever there is prey. During the rainy seasons, there is often an influx of rats, which will lead to a sharp spike in kite numbers.

Conservation Status

Because of the fluctuating numbers of this bird, it is very hard to monitor how much the numbers are dwindling overall. In between the large bursts of birth rates in this bird, the population of Letter-winged Kites might be as low as 1,000.

It is not known how the effects of overfarming or sharing their habitats with other predators such as the feral cat and the urban fox will really affect the numbers of the letter-winged kite.

Fun Facts

This bird will only lay a few eggs and will nest in large groups to avoid their eggs being eaten by other birds.

This bird will sometimes eat rabbits, lizards and various small insects. However, 90% of its diet is made up of rats.