Only recently confirmed as a distinct species, the white-collared kite has the unfortunate distinction of being one of the most endangered birds of prey in the world (2) (3) (5) (6). A large kite, it is blackish above and white below, with a white leading edge to the wing and white underwing-coverts. There may also be white spotting on the mantle and white tips to the secondaries (2) (3) (5) (7) (8), although these last two features have been difficult to confirm in wild specimens (9). The head is white to greyish with, as the name suggests, a white collar around the neck (2) (3) (7) (8), and the tail may have one or two dark bands (9). The wings of the white-collared kite are quite broad and blunt, the tail is relatively long and rounded, and the head is small, with a slender beak (7).
The white-collared kite was previously considered a possible variant of the closely-related grey-headed kite, Leptodon cayanensis (2) (5) (7) (10). However, it can be distinguished from the adult grey-headed kite by the white collar, white rather than black leading edge to the wings, white underwing-coverts, whiter forehead, and different tail pattern (2) (3) (5) (7) (8). Light-morph juvenile grey-headed kites are browner above than the white-collared kite, have a black crown, and have black-tipped feathers on the upperparts (3).
- Also known as
- Forbes’s kite.
- Length: 49 - 50 cm (2) (3)
- 550 - 580 g (2)
White-collared kite biology
Very little is known about the biology and life history of the white-collared kite (2) (3) (5) (8). However, it is likely to be similar to the grey-headed kite (5) (8), which feeds on a variety of insects as well as eggs, young birds, frogs, lizards, snakes and molluscs (7). The grey-headed kite builds a thin platform nest of sticks and twigs, high in the forest canopy, and lays a clutch of two to three eggs (7). Pairs of white-collared kites have been observed engaging in aerial displays, including ‘mutual soaring’, in which one individual follows the path of the other. Individuals or pairs may also perform a ‘butterfly display’, in which the wings are held at a steep angle above the horizontal, and the bird makes stiff, fast wing flaps (11) (12). The calls of this species include a rapid series of short, high kua-kua-kua-kua notes, as well as a nasal call which somewhat resembles that of a peacock (3) (11).
White-collared kite range
The white-collared kite is known from just a handful of sites in the states of Pernambuco and Alagoas in north-eastern Brazil (2) (3) (5) (7) (10), and has also recently been recorded further south, in the state of Sergipe (9).
Species with a similar range
White-collared kite habitat
White-collared kite status
Classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (4).
White-collared kite threats
With a total population so far estimated at perhaps fewer than 100 mature individuals, and a highly restricted and fragmented range (3) (10), the white-collared kite may be the most endangered bird of prey in South America (6), and indeed is one of the rarest birds in the world (5). The Atlantic coastal forest of Brazil is highly threatened by habitat loss, mainly in the form of clearance for sugarcane and coffee plantations, and pressure from urbanisation (7) (8) (13). Within this species’ range, massive deforestation has drastically reduced forest cover to less than one percent of its former extent, and the small remaining forest fragments are under continued threat from logging, as well as from fires (3) (10). In addition, a lack of knowledge about the white-collared kite, whose very existence as a distinct species was still debated as recently as 2005, hinders efforts to conserve it (5) (6) (8).
White-collared kite conservation
The white-collared kite is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meaning that any international trade in the species should be carefully monitored (4). In addition, a large area of Murici, Alagoas, is legally protected, and organisations such as the Instituto para a Preservação da Mata Atlântica (IPMA) are working to create forest reserves on privately-owned land (3) (10). Further surveys and research into the white-collared kite are urgent priorities (3) (6) (10), and studies have been recommended to clarify its taxonomic status using genetic analysis (3). The designation of Murici as a biological reserve and the protection of other forest areas (3) (10) (13), such as Mata do Coimbra, Ibateguara, Alagoas (12), will also be important to its continued survival. Birds of prey make ideal, charismatic ‘flagship’ species for conservation (6), and so any efforts to conserve this highly endangered kite would also be likely to benefit many of the other threatened species that share its fragile habitat.
Find out more
To find out more about the white-collared kite and its conservation see:
For more information on conservation in the Atlantic Forest of Brazil see:
For more information on this and other bird species please see:
- Atlantic Forest
- A highly biodiverse region found along the east coast of South America, comprising several different vegetation types, including high-altitude grassland, and lowland and montane forest. The coastal Atlantic forest is a narrow strip of about 50 to 100 kilometres along the coast, which covers about 20 percent of the Atlantic Forest region.
- Small feathers concealing the bases of larger flight feathers, usually on the wings or tail.
- In birds, the wings, shoulder feathers and back, when coloured differently from the rest of the body.
- A diverse group of invertebrates, mainly marine, that have one or all of the following; a horny, toothed ribbon in the mouth (the radula), a shell covering the upper surface of the body, and a mantle or mantle cavity with a type of gill. Includes snails, slugs, shellfish, octopuses and squid.
- One of two or more distinct types of a given species, often distinct colour forms, which occur in the same population at the same time (that is, are not geographical or seasonal variations).
- In birds, the shorter flight feathers projecting along the inner edge of the wing.
- Relating to taxonomy, the science of classifying organisms, grouping together animals which share common features and are thought to have a common ancestor.
IUCN Red List (March, 2010)
del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1994) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 2: New World Vultures to Guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
BirdLife International (March, 2010)
CITES (March, 2010)
Global Raptor Information Network. Species Account: White-collared Kite Leptodon forbesi (March, 2010)
Bierregaard Jr, R.O. (1998) Conservation status of birds of prey in the South American tropics. Journal of Raptor Research, 32(1): 19-27.
Ferguson-Lees, J. and Christie, D.A. (2001) Raptors of the World. Helm Identification Guides, A & C Black Publishers, London.
Schulenberg, T.S. (2009) White-collared kite (Leptodon forbesi). In: Neotropical Birds Online. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca. Available at:
Dénes, F.V. (May, 2010) Pers. comm.
Hirschfeld, E. (2008) BirdLife International: Rare Birds Yearbook. MagDig Media Limited, Shrewsbury.
Pereira, G.A., Dantas, S.M. and Periquito, M.C. (2006) Possível registro de Leptodon forbesi no estado de Pernambuco, Brasil. Revista Brasileira de Ornitologia, 14(4): 441-444.
Seipke, S. (May, 2010) Pers. comm.
Conservation International: Biodiversity Hotspots - Atlantic Forest (March, 2010)