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Meet the Black-Shoulder Kite – the elegant rodent killer

Tail feathers of the black-shouldered kite look like a Japanese fan (All photos: Mrityunjoy Kumar Jha)

That Sunday morning in Tal Chhapar Black Buck sanctuary in Rajasthan, we halted the jeep and watched the bird perching quietly at our eye level. Unlike other raptors which are big, dark and powerful birds with gimlet eyes, armed with grappling iron talons and cruel meat-hook bills, this bird was refined, silver-grey and snow-white,  looking straight down out of eyes that seem to be made of pure rubies. 

Though we were after the big raptors, this handsome bird stopped us in our tracks. The black-shouldered kite also known as the black-winged kite is slightly smaller than a crow and is one of the smaller members of raptors. It may not be as big and powerful like eagles and falcons  but it holds its own, and is very proficient at what it does. In Hindi, It is known as Kapas because of its white colour. 

The black-shoulder kite looks like a character out of an animated film. With sharp crimson eyes inside black frames, she thirsts for bloody sunsets. Her grey-and-white plumage wears a fresh coat of paint every other season. That is why she seems fashionable all the time. And her tail-feathers look like hand-crafted Japanese fans. When perched, black-shouldered kite raises and lowers the tail very often. Maybe it is a form of display, but also when excited. It is the pre-copulation display. 

We waited for her to fly, her long wings spread out impressively as she took off. It was a sight to behold to watch her soar high. 

“It is hunting time – morning and evening, be ready”, our guide alerted us pointing towards the hovering bird. When it comes to hunting, Black-shouldered kite is a hover-and-attack sort of bird. It hovers above her prey, scanning and analyzing the need for speed, before she swoops in for her favourite meal – rodents. In India, especially in the rural and agricultural belts, experts call this bird a Pied-Piper of Hamelin, as it has a gargantuan taste for rodent flesh.

Black-shoulder kite hovering (Courtsey: Osa Conservation)

Happily, this sleek handsome bird is found all over the country and, in fact, its habitat has been expanding as it enters areas that have been heavily deforested. 

The Black-shouldered kite was back on the perch with a rodent and had started devouring it. 

It’s a pity that the bird will never know how admired it was, that Sunday morning, when it was probably just concerned about its next Sunday meal, most likely a rodent. 

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