Plumbeous Kite Ictinia plumbea

  • Order: Accipitriformes
  • Family: Accipitridae
  • Monotypic
  • Authors: Hilary Yu



Plumbeous Kites are typically of a mild disposition until it is perceived that their nests or young are threatened, at which point they can become combative. Plumbeous Kites have often been observed to perch for an hour at a time in the top of a tree or, if it is hot, to seek shelter in a shaded spot on a lower branch. Their flight has been described as "buoyant, easy, and graceful" with their tails spread out and veering from one side to another (Sutton 1944).

The Plumbeous Kite typically forages in flight, either in continuous flight (aerial hunts), or after taking flight from a perch (perch hunts) (Seavy et al 1997). They have been described to hunt and eat ants and other insects while flying, catching their prey with their small, and often dangling, feet (Sick 1993). Aerial hunts can take place anywhere from canopy level to several hundred meters above and typically occur by one of three methods: quick grabs; short, flapping climbs; and/or diving pursuits. In addition to aerial hunts, Plumbeous Kites use the foraging technqiue of perch hunts. In perch hunts, the bird either drops down from its perch on a branch or carries out a short, flapping flight to reach its prey (Seavy et al. 1997). In southeastern Brazil, Plumbeous Kites have formed a foraging association with Buffy-headed Marmosets, feeding on the prey - primarily cicadas - flushed by the marmosets in the course of their own foraging (Ferrari 1990). Individuals forage alone, in pairs, or in groups. At a nest site in Tikal National Park in Guatemala, two adults captured a Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis) and fed it to their nestling. Such tandem hunting, however, is limited to more elusive prey - those that are not insects - and is not commonly observed (Seavy et al. 1997).


During the breeding season, Plumbeous Kites were observed to have regularly-spaced breeding sites separated by about half a kilometer. Territorial behavior between individuals in the species was also exhibited during these times (Seavy et al. 1998).

Sexual Behavior

Plumbeous Kites breed in pairs and are likely monogamous. Pairs were observed to return to the same nest year after year, or to an alternate site nearby (Seavy et al. 1998).

There are no records of courtship displays.

Social and interspecific behavior

Plumbeous Kite is not notably gregarious, other than in migration. Records exist for sightings in Panama of migrating flocks composed of as many as 40 Plumbeous Kites from August to September, and often in association with Swallow-tailed Kites (Elanoides forficatus) (Eisenmann 1963). In 1975, migrating groups of more than 60 individuals were seen over Parque Nacional Purace in Colombia (Hilty and Brown 1986).

Individuals forage alone, in pairs, or in groups. Small flocks have also been recorded to aggregate and soar over fields where insect numbers are high, often due to activities of recent plowing or burning in those areas (Belton 1984).


Not recorded.

Recommended Citation

Yu, H. (2012). Plumbeous Kite (Ictinia plumbea), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.