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Observations of White-tailed Kite Nests Needed

Photo of White-tailed Kite by Gary Meredith
Sea and Sage Audubon is now conducting a survey of White-tailed Kite nesting territories in Orange County. We are looking for any and all information about the location of kite nests, or nesting activities, within the county and will appreciate any information, from as little as single nest sightings, to regular observations at a territory. Pertinent information needed includes: the location, date, how many birds observed, and any behavioral information. Please remember that while we need information, it is very important to stay far away from an active nest and to avoid any disturbance in the nest area. A copy of the White-tailed Kite observation form can be obtained by clicking here.
White-tailed Kites (Elanus leucurys) in Orange County
Not that very long ago, White-tailed Kites were considered a common species in Orange County. In fact, in the 1970’s, communal roosts of over 100 individuals were regularly seen in the San Joaquin Marsh. Well into the 90’s, roosts of 75 or more kites were found in places like the Arroyo Trabuco in southern Orange County. You may even remember the nickname “Freeway Hawks’, given to these birds, because they were so commonly seen foraging along our freeway ramps and grass covered center dividers. Now, however, they have become much less abundant and successful nesting pairs appear to be few and far between.
White-tailed Kite breeding patterns are naturally quite cyclical. In large part this is related to population swings of their main prey species: meadow voles, gophers and mice. However, this cannot account for the rapid decline of breeding pairs. It is believed that about 75 to 100 pairs nested within Orange County as late as the 1980’s. Now, we estimate there may only 15 to 20 pairs nesting in good years, perhaps even fewer in poor years.
Outright habitat loss and habitat conversion are the main culprits that have taken a heavy toll on this species throughout southern California. Kites need open grasslands for foraging and a level of seclusion for successful nesting and the fledging of youngsters. Unfortunately, there is little undisturbed open space or grasslands left in Orange County. Many of the remaining pairs are found near coastal reserves where small remnant territories still exist. In these areas there are increased numbers of predators, natural enemies, and human related challenges. Each year the Orange County Bird of Prey Center, and other wildlife rescue facilities in the area, receive injured or very ill fledgling Kites which are usually the result of human interactions such as, car strikes, attacks by crows and ravens, or starvation due to habitat and territory fragmentation. We are concerned that the condition of these young birds represents the fate of most of the fledglings in areas near urbanization and that few, if any, actually reach adult status.
There is real concern that the combination of habitat loss, urban pressures and natural breeding fluctuations are threatening the extirpation of the remaining Orange County population. After a severe drought in 1999, there was a significant reduction in White-tailed Kite nests, county wide in 2000. We could easily loose this bird as an Orange County resident in the near future. In order to track the problem, and hopefully help seek solutions, we are initiating a census of White-tailed Kite nesting pairs in the county, as well as documenting the success of these nests. No one else is paying attention to the decline of these birds throughout southern California, so it’s up to us to take the lead. If you would like to help or simply report the observation of a nest(s), please contact Scott Thomas.
White-tailed Kite observation form
Scott Thomas
Conservation Com. Chair
(949) 293-2915

Sea & Sage Audubon Society
PO Box 5447 • Irvine, CA 92616 • 949-261-7963