In Our Backyard Environment

How the Black Kite turned from hunter to scavenger

The Black Kite in flight

The Black Kite in flight   | Photo Credit: Ashir Kumar

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On-field observations suggest that like crows, Black Kites also show opportunistic predatory traits by feeding on road kills or by snatching away kills from other birds in cities

You see this majestic bird of prey circling fish and meat markets, and swarming around Delhi’s great mountains of garbage. It is a fairly large bird with dark rufous-brown colour and occurs mainly around cities, towns and villages. The easiest way to set it apart from eagles we may find in the vicinity is its shallow tail-fork. Unlike many other species, urbanisation has proved fruitful for the Black Kite (Milvus migrans). The drastic concretisation and the reduction in the natural prey base, has possibly compelled this bird to change its diet. From hunting and preying on rodents and other animals, it now feeds on ready-to-eat scraps.

While it was always an unskilled hunter, even its natural predatory instincts have been killed, making it primarily a scavenger. While this does keep the city a little cleaner, it comes with liabilities. On-field observations suggest that like crows, Black Kites also show opportunistic predatory traits by feeding on road kills or by snatching away kills from other birds in cities. Its increasing population may also prove detrimental for the existence of other birds in the city that primarily depend on hunting, such as Shikra and other resident and migratory eagles. All this adversely affects the food chain.

The species is predominantly synurbic, one that prefers close proximity to humans in cities, in order to sustain itself. Thus coexistence is often a result of dependent strategies and trade-offs, a compromise that helps them thrive.

In cities, Black Kites tend to build their nests atop high trees, electricity towers, and near foraging sites, for convenience, which again is a trait that helps them be ready for anything that comes their way as a result of this development. When alarmed or while protecting its territory, it gives out a shrill whistle eww-wir-r-r-r.

Considering the explosion in their numbers and that the birds are territorial during their breeding and nesting, the city has also seen kite-attacks on humans in areas that have a higher human-density in comparison to other areas. Similarly, several other species of animals that are vital to maintain the delicate balance of the urban ecosystem, have also taken a drastic hit. In fact, Delhi is seeing one of the highest densities of raptors in the world.

Like humans, the species is a survivalist and in order to keep a balance, the human race should be careful about their waste disposal around the city. The more efficient the garbage disposal is, the more balance it would bring to the kite population around cities and towns.

The writer is the founder of NINOX - Owl About Nature, a nature-awareness initiative. He is the Delhi-NCR reviewer for Ebird, a Cornell University initiative, monitoring rare sightings of birds. He formerly led a programme of WWF India.

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Printable version | Dec 14, 2019 2:34:10 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/how-the-black-kite-turned-from-hunter-to-scavenger/article29844116.ece

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