08 July 2012

Black eared Kites – Abu Ali Island (Jubail)

Whilst birding on Abu Ali Island on 22nd June I located six Black Kites Milvus migrans sitting on a telegraph pole near to the road. I stopped the car and took a couple of photographs of the birds as they looked a little different. After watching the birds closely I finally ended up with a total of 15 birds in the area. The Black Kite is a medium-sized bird of prey that is a widespread species throughout the temperate and tropical parts of Eurasia and parts of Australasia. European Black Kite M. m. migrans and Black-eared Kite M. m. lineatus from central Asia are migratory, moving to the tropics in winter, but races in warmer regions such as the Indian M. m. govinda (Pariah Kite) are resident. The two sub-species, European Black Kite & Black-eared Kite are uncommon to rare migrants, mainly in the spring, and winter visitors to Saudi Arabia. The recently split Yellow-billed Kite M. aegyptius also occurs in Saudi Arabia but is restricted to South-west Saudi Arabia where it is a resident breeder in small numbers. Yellow-billed Kite has an obvious yellow beak, deeper tail fork and more rufous under-parts and has been split into a separate species due to recent DNA studies suggesting that the Yellow-billed African races parasitus and aegyptius differ significantly from Black Kites in the Eurasian clade and should be considered as a separate, allopatric species Yellow-billed Kite, M. aegyptius (Jeff A. Johnson, Richard T. Watson and David P. Mindell (2005) Prioritising species conservation: does the Cape Verde kite exist? Proc. R. Soc. B 272:1365–1371). They occur throughout Africa except for the Congo basin and the Sahara Desert. The same study suggests that the Black-eared Kite (M. m. lineatus), is not sufficiently distinctive to justify specific status. As molecular information is much more reliable in this species than in the Red Kite, the Black-eared Kite should be regarded a distinct allopatric subspecies. Another reason why lineatus and migrans are probably distinct sub-species is there is a large interbreeding zone in Central Asia, Siberia & Mongolia. These intergrades may well also occur in Saudi Arabia and as a result the Black Kite situation in Saudi Arabia is very complicated and many birds are often best left as unidentified to sub-species level. I have posted this late as I was trying to make certain what sub species these birds were and most things point to them being Black-eared Kite which has not been recorded previously in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. I returned to the site the following two weekends but failed to find any Black Kites in the area dispite searching for almost the entire day on both occasions.

Milvus migrans migrans (Boddaert, 1783): European Black Kite - Breeds Central, Southern and Eastern Europe to Tien Shan and south to NW Pakistan. Winters in sub-Saharan Africa.
Milvus migrans lineatus (J. E. Gray, 1831): Black-eared Kite - Siberia to Amurland South around Himalaya to Iran, Northern India, Northern Indochina and Southern China; Japan. Northern inland birds migrate to East Persian Gulf coast and South Asia in winter.
Milvus migrans govinda (Sykes, 1832): Pariah Kite - E Pakistan through tropical India and Sri Lanka to Indochina and Malaysian Peninsula. Resident.
Milvus migrans affinis (Gould, 1838): Fork-tailed Kite - Sulawesi and possibly Lesser Sunda Islands; Papua New Guinea except mountains; NE and E Australia.
Milvus migrans formosanus (Kuroda, 1920): Taiwan Kite - Taiwan and Hainan; resident.

Features of these birds suggest Black-eared Kite Milvus (migrans) lineatus rather than nominate Black Kite Milvus migrans such as the bluish grey feet and bill base, which would be yellow in Black Kite. These birds appear to be Black-eared Kites although intergrades cannot be entirely ruled out at present. Some pointers to identification of Black-eared Kite include a wider white area on the base of the primaries "hand"; longer P5 and P6, which are also narrower & more pointed; narrower & more numerous tail bars; a darker head and breast band, contrasting with the rest of under-parts, instead of paler head, with a juvenile Eastern Imperial Eagle like look seen on Black Kite; rustier, even reddish tones to the under-wing coverts, not buff or creamy as in Black Kite; broader pale tips to underbody feathers; bluish bare parts rather than yellowish in Black Kite.