Square-tailed kite (Lophoictinia isura)

Also known as: long-winged kite
Synonyms: Milvus isurus
Spanish: Milano Colicuadrado
GenusLophoictinia (1)
SizeLength: 50 - 55 cm (3)
Wingspan: 130 - 145 cm (3)
Male weight: 500 g (3)
Female weight: 635 g (3)
Top facts

The square-tailed kite is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and is listed on Appendix II of CITES (2).

The square-tailed kite (Lophoictinia isura) is a slender, medium-sized bird with long, graceful wings (4). The adult has a distinctive crest and dark reddish-brown feathers with black streaks on its head (5), which contrast against its white face (3). Its lower back and rump are blackish and barred with greyish brown, as are its central uppertail-coverts (3), while its underparts are reddish-brown. All feathers on its chest and abdomen are black in the centre (5).

The dark brown primary feathers of this species are shaded with grey and stand out from the secondaries, which are paler, and both primary and secondary feathers have black banding. The square-tailed kite’s tail is square-cut (4), with dark brown feathers that have blackish bands and are finely tipped with white (5). Its fairly small bill and feet are both pale, and the short legs are featherless (4). Its eyes are pale yellow (5).

The juvenile square-tailed kite is a paler version of the adult, with far less rich reddish-brown colouring. Its black chest feather markings are also barely decipherable (5).

Predominantly a silent species, the square-tailed kite may sometimes give a hoarse or lamenting yelp, or a weak twitter when at, or close to, the nest (3).

The square-tailed kite is endemic to Australia, occurring across the mainland but considered rare in central parts of the continent (6). 

Typically occurring in coastal forests and temperate and tropical woodland, the square-tailed kite is often found near wooded watercourses. In the more arid regions of New South Wales, the square-tailed kite has been seen in more rocky habitats with grasses, acacia scrub and low eucalypt woodland (4). This species is seldom found in open areas (7), and is absent from waterless desert (4). 

As a specialist predator of passerines, particularly honeyeaters, but also feeding on insects, the square tailed kite takes the majority of its prey from the outer foliage of tree canopies (3). This species is a known nest robber, snatching eggs and nestlings directly from the nests of smaller bird species, occasionally even taking the entire nest (8). The square-tailed kite may also feed on reptiles and small mammals (4). Hunting regularly, twice a day in the morning and afternoon or evening, this species covers large distances (3), searching for its prey from the air. The square-tailed kite is an agile species that, despite its long wings, is well adapted to hunting in woodland, gliding slowly either above or just below the canopy (7).

Square-tailed kites form monogamous pairs, reportedly for life (3). However, this species is more often solitary outside of the breeding season (7). Female square-tailed kites lay eggs from July until December, and breeding pairs nest solitarily. Nests are constructed 8 to 34 metres above the ground, usually in the fork of a living woodland or forest tree. The nest itself is generally 50 to 85 centimetres across, 25 to 60 centimetres deep and lined with green leaves (8). Clutch size of the square-tailed kite is between one and three eggs which are incubated by both sexes for around 37 to 42 days, and the minimum nestling period is nine weeks after hatching. However, fledglings may beg for food from adult birds for more than a month after leaving the nest (3).

The square-tailed kite is a highly mobile species, and populations in the south migrate to the tropics during the winter months (4).

The square-tailed kite is not currently considered to be a threatened species (6). However, it is vulnerable to certain activities which include habitat loss by logging, clearing and burning for cultivation and grazing, as well as illegal egg collection or hunting of the species, nest disturbance and unsuitable fire regime management (3). 

In New South Wales, management practices are in place to protect the square-tailed kite. Maintenance of nesting habitat, defining suitable habitat zones for protection, and alteration of fire management regimes to maintain necessary habitat diversity are a few of the suggested management practices for the region (3). 

Find out more about the square-tailed kite:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2012)
  2. CITES (December, 2012) 
  3. New South Wales, Office of Environment and Heritage - Square-tailed kite (December, 2012)
  4. New South Wales, Office of Environment and Heritage New Scientific Committee: Square-tailed kite Lophoictinia isura: Review of current information in New South Wales (December, 2012)
  5. Bowlder Sharpe, R. (2005) Catalogue of Accipitres, or Diurnal Birds of Prey, in the Collection of the British Museum. Adamant Media Corporation, Boston.
  6. BirdLife International - Square-tailed kite (December, 2012)
  7. Tzaros, C. (2005) Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Country. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
  8. BirdLife Australia - Square-tailed kite (December, 2012)
  9. Debus, S. (2012) Birds of Prey of Australia. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.