Pearl Kite: The Ultimate Guide

The pearl kite is a very small bird of prey commonly found in an oven savanna habitat in Southern and Central America and also the Caribbean. The pearl kite can also be referred to as a northern pearl kite, a yellow-faced kite, or Swainson’s pearl kite which commemorates the English naturalist William Swainson.

If you’re interested in finding out more about this bird of prey, then continue reading to find out some interesting facts and information about this fascinating raptor. 


The pearl kite is one of the smallest birds of prey in the Americas and only measures around 7.9 to 9 inches in length from the top of its head down to its tail. They only weigh between 0.17 to 0.2lbs.

Adult pearl kites will have a black crown, wings, tail, and upper parts of their body with a white collar and plumage. Their cheeks, forehead, and legs are yellow.

Juvenile pearl kites look pretty similar to their adult counterparts but instead have white and chestnut hints to the back of their body and on their wings. They have some light brown on their collar and their white underparts. 

If you’d manage to spot one of their soaring through the area, you would think that they were predominantly black on the top and white on the bottom, however, more up-close images would be able to show the yellow detailing on their bodies.

Male Vs Female

Female pearl kites are around 10-20% bigger than male ones, there are no definitive facts behind why this is the case, but many scientists believe that it’s associated with the female’s need to protect her nest against other predators when incubating eggs or looking after her young. 

Most of the time the male pearl kite is out hunting for food and the female is left in the nest, therefore, she needs to be big and strong enough to protect herself and her baby.

Are They Aggressive?

Due to their size, pearl kites are not normally associated with being aggressive because despite being a bird of prey, they are relatively tiny in comparison to other raptors out there. As with other raptors, pearl kites will become more aggressive and territorial around the breeding season, even towards larger predators in the area. 

Small pearl kites will do a process called ‘mobbing’ which involves swooping or dashing at large flying or perched predators to scare them away from a breeding territory or a nearby nest. 

What Adaptations Do They Have?

Pearl kites have amazing eyesight and sensitive hearing which makes them especially good at hunting their prey because they can spot them from a distance without being spotted themselves and then swoop in and perform a surprise attack.

They are equipped with sharp claws that they use to seize their prey and they will use a combination of their claws and their sharp beak to help rip open the flesh of any prey they catch.

Breeding/Reproduction Behaviour

Breeding and the reproducing season will depend on the range of the species and also the rains, however, the most common breeding period is between January and May. When initiating a courtship, a male or female may fly around one another to show their interest. 

Pearl kites can produce up to 2 broods per season and may have 2-4 eggs that have chestnut markings per clutch. 

The incubation period of the eggs is done predominantly by the female pearl kite and can last anywhere from 28 to 35 days depending on the range of the species. The male will be the main supplier of food during this period although the female may take a short stint out of the nest from her eggs to find food herself. 

When the eggs hatch, they will then be fed by the female and will then fledge around 35 days after hatching.

Their Calls/Sounds

Their call is a high-pitched and musical ‘pip-pip-pip-pip’ sound which they will often do during the breeding season and predominantly in the early morning. They will often do it when they are mostly settled in their territory and would like to alert nearby potential breeding partners that they are present. 

These noises become sharper when they feel threatened or they are alerting their companions that there is danger nearby. They may produce a similar sound as part of their attack on their prey.

What Do They Eat? (Diet)

Pearl kites will normally feed on lizards and predominantly anolis, but they will also eat smaller birds and insects depending on the food supply available in their territory. They will sit on high perches and look out for prey below and when they spot something, they will swoop in and perform a surprise attack.

When foraging for food on the ground, the pearl kite will hover like a falcon over the area before moving more swiftly towards their prey. 

Where Do They Live? (Habitat)

You will commonly find pearl kites in countries like Bolivia, Panama, Colombia, and around Northern Argentina and also have a small population in Nicaragua. Back in the 1970s, a population of pearl kites was found on Trinidad after they had expanded their distribution and then again in the 1990s when another population was spotted in Costa Rica. 

They reside in dry open land with sparse trees and pastures and savannas, where they like to hunt for their most common prey – lizards. They’re commonly found in humid climates and recently deforested areas where there will be a higher chance of a high food supply. 

What Are Their Nesting Habits?

Peal kites will build a small, shallow and flimsy nest 13 to 26 feet above the ground and even up to 60 feet in the tallest trees. Both adults in the courtship will bring twigs continuously to strengthen the nest. The same nest may be used for successive years during the courtship and sometimes may only be dispersed if their habitat is lost due to deforestation.

How Long Do They Live For? (Lifespan)

Smaller raptors like kites tend to have a shorter lifespan than larger raptors, however, there is no current definitive average lifespan available for this species due to the lack of conservation studies being conducted. The average lifespan for kites is around 15 years, so it’s fair to presume that a pearl kite’s lifespan would be around a similar number. 

What Predators Do They Have?

The main predator of a pearl kite would be larger raptors such as hawks, who would try to capitalize on their larger build to be able to catch this species. Eggs and young hatchlings are most vulnerable to predators and the female will remain in the nest as much as possible until her young are ready to hatch to protect them. 

What Are Their Feathers Like?

Pearl kites have soft feathers which are denser around the breast of the bird due to secondary feathers. 

What Does Their Poop Look Like?

Birds do not have separate exits for urine and feces as humans do, so both are excreted simultaneously and can appear to look like a white gooey liquid but this can vary depending on their diet. 

Do They Migrate?

Pearl kites are sedentary in their range and commonly tend to stay within the same area all their lives unless forced to move. Destruction of habitat or lack of food supply may cause these raptors to migrate to a more beneficial area. Young pearl kites are more likely to disperse to a different area once they fledge the nest.

There is an isolated sedentary population in Nicaragua.

Conservation Status

Pearl kites are widely distributed across the Americas and they frequently expand into new habitats as time goes on, especially within Central America. They seem to have benefited from deforestation as they have managed to expand their distribution a lot wider than other species. 

According to BirdLife International, pearl kites are a species of ‘least concern’ regarding their conservation status. 

There are estimated to be around 7,000 mature pearl kites distributed across the Americas and if their population is not negatively impacted by deforestation, the number is only likely to increase in the future. 

Fun Facts

  • The pearl kite has 3 sub-species, G.s leonae, G.s magnus, and G.s swainsonii 
  • They can produce 2-4 eggs per clutch and up to 2 times per season
  • The pearl kite is the only member of the genus Gampsonyx
  • They are found in open woodlands and savannas in Central and South America