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Slender-billed Kite

Helicolestes hamatus

The Slender-billed Kite, Helicolestes hamatus, is a bird of prey with a graceful slaty gray plumage. It boasts broad, rounded wings and a short, square tail. This species measures between 36 to 41 centimeters in length and has a wingspan of approximately 80 to 90 centimeters. Both sexes are similar in appearance, but females are generally larger, weighing between 367 and 485 grams, while males range from 377 to 448 grams. They are characterized by a sharp black beak, designed for their specialized diet, and sharp black talons. Their eyes are a striking yellowish hue, and they have orange-red faces and legs. Juvenile birds are similar to adults but can be identified by their brownish eyes and three narrow white bands on their tails.

Identification Tips

To distinguish the Slender-billed Kite from its relatives, note its yellow eyes, which contrast with the red eyes of the male Snail Kite. It also has a shorter tail and more slender beak than the Snail Kite. When observing nestlings, one can see that the Slender-billed Kite's young already resemble the adult plumage more closely than do the Snail Kite's nestlings.

Habitat

This kite is found in forested regions of tropical northern and central South America, as well as the far eastern parts of Panama. It prefers the flooded forests and wetland areas where its prey, aquatic snails, are abundant.

Distribution

The Slender-billed Kite has a scattered range across its preferred habitats in South America, including Colombia, Venezuela, the Guianas, the Amazon rainforest, and Brazil.

Behaviour

The Slender-billed Kite is often seen perched on low branches, scanning for prey. It dives to snatch snails with its talons and uses its hooked beak to extract them from their shells. During the breeding season, males court females by presenting and feeding them snails bill-to-bill.

Song & Calls

The primary call of the Slender-billed Kite is a nasal "kee-ee-aay-aay-aay," starting with a sharp rise in frequency followed by a steady decline. This call is typically heard in flight or as a response to predators. Another call, a repeating "ker-ah" with oscillating frequency, is heard as the bird approaches its mate at the nest.

Breeding

Breeding occurs in trees 9 to 20 meters high in areas prone to flooding during the wet season, typically from June to October. The nesting period spans 98 to 112 days, with usually two eggs laid and an incubation period of 30 days. Chicks can stand at two weeks and fly by 40 days. Parents feed the chicks snail pieces bill-to-bill until they are 7 weeks old.

Diet and Feeding

The Slender-billed Kite's diet primarily consists of aquatic snails, particularly from the genus Pomacea. They also hunt for crabs, such as Poppiana dentata. They are adept at removing the operculum and extracting the snail from its shell, and they tend to select smaller snails than the Snail Kite.

Conservation status

The Slender-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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