Birds – The Kites And Sea Eagles (subfamily Milvince)

At first sight it seems a rather strange assemblage to place the true Kites in the same subfamily with the great Sea Eagles, but in spite of obvious external differences the anatomical characters seem to warrant placing them together, while at the same time the extreme forms are connected by others of intermediate characters. It is said that the name of Kite should properly be restricted to the genus Milvus, and even further than this to a single species, — the Common Kite of Europe (M. Milvus). This genus is a small one, embracing but six species, all confined to the Old World, being birds of moderate size with long, pointed wings and long, forked tails, the outer feathers of the tail being longest. They have relatively a rather weak bill, the culmen straight at base, then curved, and without any notch, while the tarsus is short and the feet provided with sharp, often quite long claws. They are birds of strong but graceful flight, and may often be seen sporting in the air much after the manner of Swallows.

The Common Kite, or Glead (M. Milvus), is a more or less abundant bird of central and southern Europe, and was once a familiar sight in the British Islands and even in the streets of London, but owing to ceaseless persecution it is now confined as a breeding bird to a few pairs in Scotland and Wales. It is about twenty-five inches in length, with the upper parts reddish brown, the feathers with pale edges, those of the head and neck being grayish white streaked with brown. The under parts are rust-colored with longitudinal streaks of brown. The female is similar, but has the upper parts a deeper brown and the head and neck white.

Hudson says the Kite is one of the finest of the diurnal birds of prey : ” The great extent of his sharp-pointed wings and his long, forked tail fit him for an aërial life. In appearance he is a swallow-shaped Eagle, and few birds equal him in grace and majesty of motion when he soars at a vast height. Like the Eagles, Buzzards, and other strong fliers among the raptores, he soars for exercise and recreation, and, vulture-like, when soaring he is ever on the watch for a meal, and, vulture-like, he will feed on garbage, for though of so noble an appearance, and possessed of great power, he has, compared with the Falcons, a poor spirit, and his name is a term of reproach that signifies cowardice and rapacity. A carrion-eater, he also preys on small mammals, reptiles, and birds, in most cases the young, the sickly, or wounded.” The nest is a bulky affair of sticks and rubbish placed in a tree or a ledge on a rock. The eggs, two to four in number, are much spotted with brown.

Black Kite. — Another widely distributed species is the Black or Migrating Kite (M. Migrans), which is found in central and southern Europe, central Asia, and southward in winter over the whole of Africa. It is a little smaller than the Common Kite and is easily distinguished by its much darker color above and by the dark brown, indistinctly barred tail. It is an active bird, filling the place of a scavenger in many places, gaining most of its food from refuse heaps, offal from slaughter-houses, and an occasional fowl. It nests in the tops of palm trees.

The Arabian Kite (M. Cegyptius), which extends over the whole of Africa and Madagascar, and thence into southeastern Europe, Greece, and Dalmatia, is quite similar to the Common Kite, being distinguished among other characters by the brown, black-barred tail and bright yellow cere and bill.

The Pariah or Govind Kite (M. govinda) replaces the black species in the Indian peninsula and the Himalayas; while another and larger species (M. Melanotis) ranges from the Indian peninsula through Japan and China to Formosa. The former is a great scavenger, frequenting the streets of cities and towns, while the latter is a shyer bird, keeping more to the jungles.

The Everglade Kite (Rostrhamus Sociabilis), which is found from Florida through tropical America to Argentina, is a form of very doubtful relationships, but by some authorities has been placed here. It is a dark slate-colored bird about eighteen inches in length, and subsists almost entirely on snails, whence it is often called the Snail-Hawk.

The Sea Eagles. — We may next consider the Sea Eagles, a magnificent group of some seven or eight species that are fully the equal in size and appearance, if not indeed the superiors, of the true Eagles. They are at once distinguished by having the lower third of the tarsus naked all round, and are further characterized by the lanceolate feathers on the whole head and neck. They possess a long, very powerful, strongly hooked bill and enormously developed feet, which are armed with strong, curved claws. The genus (Haliaetus) is distributed throughout the entire world except South America, two species and one or two local races being natives of North America.