Letter-winged kite

Letter-winged kite
Kite, Letter-winged - Strzelecki Track 25-08-07 IMG 1519aa.jpg
Scientific classification edit
E. scriptus
Binomial name
Elanus scriptus
Gould, 1842
Elanus scriptus range map.png
Range of the letter-winged kite (2007)

The letter-winged kite (Elanus scriptus) is a small, rare and irruptive bird of prey that is found only in Australia. Measuring around 35 cm (14 in) in length with a wingspan of 84–100 cm (33–39 in), the adult letter-winged kite has predominantly pale grey and white plumage and prominent black rings around its red eyes. It gains its name from the highly distinctive black underwing pattern of a shallow 'M' or 'W' shape, seen when in flight. This distinguishes it from the otherwise similar black-shouldered kite.

The species begins breeding in response to rodent outbreaks, with pairs nesting in loose colonies of up to 50 birds each. Three to four eggs are laid and incubated for around thirty days, though the eggs may be abandoned if the food source disappears. Chicks are fledged within five weeks of hatching. Roosting in well-foliaged trees during the day, the letter-winged kite hunts mostly at night. It is a specialist predator of rodents, which it hunts by hovering in mid-air above grasslands and fields. It is rated as near threatened on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)'s Red List of Threatened Species.


The letter-winged kite was described by ornithologist John Gould in 1842 under its current binomial name Elanus scriptus.[2] The specific epithet is from the Latin word scriptum, meaning "written" or "marked".[3] British explorer Charles Sturt wrote of seeing them on his travels in his 1849 book Narrative of an Expedition into Central Australia.[4] The letter-winged kite is monotypic: no subspecies are recognised,[5] nor is there any recorded geographic variation.[6] Molecular evidence shows that the letter-winged kite and its relatives belong to the subfamily Elaninae, an early offshoot within the raptor family Accipitridae.[7][8] There is some evidence that they may be more divergent from other raptors and better placed in their own family.[9][10]

"Letter-winged kite" has been designated the official English-language name by the International Ornithologists' Union (IOC),[5] derived from the letter-like markings under the wings.[11] In Central Australia, southwest of Alice Springs, the Pitjantjatjara name for the letter-winged kite is nyanyitjira.[12] It has been incorrectly called white-breasted sparrowhawk.[13]

Other Languages
azərbaycanca: Elanus scriptus
български: Elanus scriptus
brezhoneg: Elanus scriptus
català: Elani marcat
español: Elanus scriptus
français: Élanion lettré
italiano: Elanus scriptus
magyar: Éjjeli kuhi
Nederlands: Letterwouw
svenska: Nattglada
Tiếng Việt: Elanus scriptus