Yellow-billed Kite

The seasonal migration of birds is a captivating natural phenomenon that has fascinated humans for centuries. Millions of birds embark on remarkable journeys yearly, traversing vast distances between their breeding and summer grounds. These incredible avian travellers navigate the seasons with astonishing precision, fuelled by an innate sense of direction. This seasonal migration not only showcases the extraordinary capabilities of birds but also sheds light on the delicate balance of ecosystems and highlights the interconnectedness of our planet’s diverse habitats. Understanding and appreciating the intricacies of bird migration reveals the unwavering determination of nature’s most skilled travellers and provides valuable insights into the importance of preserving their habitats to perpetuate their awe-inspiring migratory journeys.

The yellow-billed kite is one of the first migratory birds to arrive in southern Africa. They are welcomed as one of the first signs of our southern hemisphere summer and thrive in the Cape with its Mediterranean climate characterised by dry, hot summers, and they have recently been spotted on the Estate. The yellow-billed kite “Milvus aegyptius”, in Afrikaans, the “Geelbekwou”, is the Afrotropic counterpart of the black kite “Milvus migrans”, of which it is most often considered a subspecies. They are very similar in appearance, and their ranges overlap when black kites migrate south from Europe and Asia and into Africa during the northern hemisphere winter.

The easiest way to tell the yellow-billed and black kite apart is by looking at the beak. The yellow-billed kite has an all-yellow beak, whereas the black kite has a black-tipped beak. Immature, yellow-billed kites resemble the black kites of the corresponding age. However, DNA studies suggest that the yellow-billed kite differs significantly from black kites in the Eurasian clade and should be considered separate, allopatric species.

There are no threats to this species, and they are found in almost all habitats, including parks in suburbia, but rare in the arid Karoo. They usually lay one to four eggs, which hatch after about 30 days. Both parents help rear the chicks; the female protects them from predators, while the male can travel several kilometres to find food. These kites have a varied diet and will consume insects, crustaceans, amphibians, small mammals and other vertebrates, and they will also scavenge for carrion.

Photograph courtesy of Derek Brown