They are closely related to the Red Kite and the two species will interbreed. They occasionaly turn up in Britain.
This kite is widely distributed through the temperate and tropical parts of Eurasia and parts of Australasia, with the temperate region populations tending to be migratory. Several subspecies are recognized and formerly with their own English names. The European populations are small, but the South Asian population is very large.
In Britain they are vagrants, turning up occasionally in summer, usually becuase they "overshoot" mainland Europe and travel to far north, ending up in Britain. There have been instances where Black Kites have overwintered in Britain but that is quite rare.
The Black Kite can be distinguished from the Red Kite by its slightly smaller size, less forked tail, visible in flight and generally dark plumage without any rufous. The sexes are alike. The upper plumage is brown but the head and neck tend to be paler. The patch behind the eye appears darker. The outer flight feathers are black and the feathers have dark cross bars and are mottled at the base. The lower parts of the body are pale brown, becoming lighter towards the chin. The body feathers have dark shafts giving it a streaked appearance. The cere and gape are yellow but the bill is black (unlike in the Yellow-billed Kite). The legs are yellow and the claws are black. They have a distinctive shrill whistle followed by a rapid whinnying call.
BreedingEditBreeds central, southern and eastern Europe to Tien Shan and south to northwest Pakistan. Winters in Sub-Saharan Africa. The nest is a rough platform of twigs and rags placed in a tree. Nest sites may be reused in subsequent years. European birds breed in summer. The nests may sometimes be decorated with bright materials such as white plastic and a study in Spain suggests that they may have a role in signalling to keep away other kites. After pairing, the male frequently copulates with the female. Unguarded females may be approached by other males, and extra pair copulations are frequent. Males returning from a foraging trip will frequently copulate on return, as this increases the chances of his sperm fertilizing the eggs rather than a different male. Both the male and female take part in nest building, incubation and care of chicks. The typical clutch size is 2 or sometimes 3 eggs. The incubation period varies from 30–34 days.
Black Kites are most often seen gliding and soaring on thermals as they search for food. The flight is buoyant and the bird glides with ease, changing directions easily.
They will swoop down with their legs lowered to snatch small live prey, fish, household refuse and carrion. They are opportunist hunters and have been known to take birds, bats and rodents. Black Kites in Spain prey on nesting waterfowl especially during summer to feed their young. They may also occasionaly prey on other black kites.
They are attracted to smoke and fires, where they seek escaping prey. This behaviour has led to Australian native beliefs that kites spread fires by picking up burning twigs and dropping them on dry grass.
The Indian populations are well adapted to living in cities and are found in densely populated areas. Large numbers may be seen soaring in thermals over cities. In some places they will readily swoop and snatch food held by humans. Kites have also been seen to tear and carry away the nests of Baya Weavers in an attempt to obtain eggs or chicks.