Illustrating and Studying the White-tailed Kite

by Bryce W. Robinson

White-tailed Kite - Elanus leucurus. 11 x 17" prismacolor illustration on bristol board.

White-tailed Kite – Elanus leucurus. 11 x 17″ prismacolor illustration on bristol board.

I’ve had the White-tailed Kite on my mind to illustrate for some time, and finally put it at the front of the priority list. But lately I’ve been illustrating and feeling a bit lost in purpose. It should be enough to put myself into drawing a particular bird, but I’ve felt a need to push myself further. Not only do I want to create a unique image, but now I think it is important to learn something new about my subject each time I produce an illustration. So, for this White-tailed Kite illustration I searched the literature for an interesting paper to read and increase my knowledge.

I read a paper discussing hunting synchrony in the White-tailed Kite (Skonieczny and Dunk 1997). Hunting synchrony? I’d never heard of this before. The paper is a short communication in the Journal of Raptor Research that discusses a study on hunting habits of Elanus leucurus near Arcata California. The authors observed White-tailed Kites hunting seemingly at the same time as one another. The question was, why? So, they made their observations and compared what they saw with what was expected using chi-square analysis. The results showed that White-tailed Kite hunted in synchrony with one another. That is, when one kite was hunting, other kites in the area would hunt as well. And conversely, when no kite was hunting, other kites were inactive. It was suggested from other studies that vole activity happens in peaks, which can then influence the optimal hunting period for the kite. So, when voles are active, kites hunt and are more successful. They cue on one another to save energy and wait for the best time to hunt.

My desire to illustrate one of North America’s few Kite species spurred my desire to study further, then learning about “hunting synchrony” and developing a new bit of knowledge to bolster my understanding of not only White-tailed Kite natural history, but raptor ecology as a whole. I think I need to make a habit of pairing illustrating and study.

Referenced Literature:

Skonieczny, M.F., J.R. Dunk. 1997. Hunting synchrony in white-tailed kites. Journal of Raptor Research 31: 79-81