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A photo of a Hook-billed Kite (Chondrohierax uncinatus), male
Hook-billed Kite, Male

Hook-billed Kite

Chondrohierax uncinatus

The Hook-billed Kite, known scientifically as Chondrohierax uncinatus, is a mid-sized, slender raptor with a distinctive downcurved hook at the tip of its beak. Exhibiting a striking variation in color, males may appear blackish or gray from below, while females can show a brown or brick-red hue. This species is characterized by its striped belly and banded tail, with a notable individual variation in color and bill size that can make identification challenging. Weighing between 215 to 397 grams (7.6 to 14.0 ounces) and measuring 38–51 centimeters (15–20 inches) in length, it is a bird of considerable elegance.

Identification Tips

When attempting to identify the Hook-billed Kite, look for the unique hook at the beak's tip, visible on perched and low-flying birds. The underparts are invariably striped, and the tail is banded. The coloration varies significantly between individuals, with males and females displaying different shades.

Habitat

This raptor favors environments where tree snails are abundant, as they are a vital component of its diet.

Distribution

The Hook-billed Kite graces the skies of the Americas, with its range extending from the Rio Grande Valley of Texas in the United States, through Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and into tropical South America.

Behaviour

The Hook-billed Kite is often described as sluggish and retiring, preferring to remain perched within the leafy canopy when not in flight. It is known to hold tree snails with its talon and skillfully use its beak to pry open the shells.

Breeding

Both sexes contribute to the construction of a flimsy platform of sticks that serves as their nest. They lay two to three buff-white eggs marked with red-brown, which are incubated by both parents. The semialtricial young remain in the nest for 35–45 days and receive care and feeding from both parents.

Similar Species

The critically endangered Cuban kite (C. wilsonii) is sometimes considered a subspecies of the Hook-billed Kite, suggesting a close resemblance between the two.

Diet and Feeding

The Hook-billed Kite's diet is predominantly composed of tree snails, but it also includes terrestrial and aquatic snails, frogs, salamanders, lizards, small mammals, crabs, spiders, caterpillars, and insects. There are unconfirmed reports of it hunting other birds.

Conservation status

The Hook-billed Kite is currently listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, indicating that it is not at immediate risk of widespread decline.

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