How The Peregrine Fund is Helping
The Peregrine Fund supports researchers in their surveys to help search for this bird. Additionally, our efforts in scientific research, habitat conservation, education, and community development help conserve raptors on a global scale. We also supply literature to researchers from our avian research library, which helps scientists around the world gather and share important information on raptor conservation.
As its name suggests, the Cuban Kite is found only on the island nation of Cuba. Like the Ridgway's Hawk found only on the island of Hispaniola and the Galapagos Hawk, found only on the Galapagos Islands, the Cuban Kite is endemic - meaning it is found no where else in the world.
Like several raptor species, there is a lot that we still don't know about the Cuban Kite and sadly, it might go extinct before we have a chance to learn more. We know it used to be found throughout much of its island home, including the Zapata Peninsula, but now its range is severely limited to a small corner of the country. It inhabits forests with large trees, most often along rivers. It is found at low elevations, usually at around 500 meters above sea level or below.
What They Do
The Cuban Kite is a medium-sized raptor with a large, bright yellow beak. Like the American Kestrel, males and females differ slightly in feather color and patterns. The male is slate gray on the upper parts of its body and a rufous color on the under parts, with some gray barring. The long tail is gray and has three solid black bars and a lighter colored tip. The female, on the other hand, is a chocolate brown on her top half, and has reddish colored barring below. Unlike the American Kestrel, though, Cuban Kites also have different plumage patterns and colorations when they are juveniles, or young birds. The immature birds are actually dark brown on top and pale below.
Some researchers who have been lucky enough to observe the Cuban Kite in the wild have stated that this stunning raptor is quite tame - meaning it isn't very afraid of people and will often remain perched when humans are near. This can, and probably has, spelled trouble for this raptor. Their fearlessness has made them easy targets for hunters.
Why They Need our Help
Right now, biologists estimate that there are only between 50 and 250 individual Cuban Kites left in the wild. In fact, until recently, scientists suspected that this species might be extinct, as there had been few reliable sightings since the early 1990's. The word "reliable" is very important here because sometimes it can be easy to confuse one species for another - especially if the bird isn't seen very well or if there are species with very similar characteristics in the same area. A sighting is usually considered reliable when it seen by someone who knows the species well, is an expert birder, or can describe in detail what he or she saw - particularly the physical characteristics of the bird in question.
As you can imagine, it was very big news when someone saw a Cuban Kite and even bigger news when they managed to get a photograph. Over the past several years, this kite has been seen and photographed only a few times. But, sadly, only two individuals have been confirmed since the early 2000's. Local biologists have plans to continue searching the area to see if they can find more individual birds and hopefully determine the current size and status of the Cuban Kite population.
So, as you can see, the Cuban Kite might be in big trouble! But why has it disappeared and is there anything we can do to help? Sadly, there appear to be many factors that are affecting the well-being of this kite's population. Like many wildlife species, it is suffering due to loss of habitat, including deforestation due to logging and land clearing to make room for agriculture fields. Many collectors are harvesting the kite's main food source - snails - which is also making it very hard for these birds to find enough food. On top of all of that, some farmers also shoot these birds because they fear that they might eat their chickens, though this is very doubtful, since the kites are primarily snail-eaters.
The best thing we can do to help conserve the Cuban Kite is share what we know about it with family and friends, and support projects that help conserve habitat and wildlife in Cuba.
What They Eat
The Cuban Kite enjoys a diet of colorful tree snails and slugs which it finds mainly in the forest understory. You might be wondering how such a large bird with a relatively large bill might get at the juicy snails inside their shells without making a huge mess or swallowing a bunch of crunchy bits. The answer is, it first makes a hole in the shell with its beak and delicately pulls out the snails. Often they will return to a favorite perch to feed, so finding a pile of snail shells beneath a tree is a good sign that this bird might be around.
Nests, Eggs, and Young
There is so little known about the Cuban Kite that no information exits on when or where they nest, how many eggs they lay, or how long the young remain in the nest. There is still so much to learn about this bird, hopefully a remnant population will be found soon so biologists can continue to study and learn about this endangered raptor.
Cuban Kite and the World Center for Birds of Prey
The World Center for Birds of Prey offers fun ways to learn about birds of prey. The visitor center has interactive displays, tours, interesting videos and a children's room with activities from coloring sheets to quizzes to costumes and a touch table for the curious mind. We also have several different birds of prey on display year-round. Knowledgeable staff and volunteers are on hand to answer any questions you may have about Cuban Kites or any other birds of prey.
Garrido, O.H. 1976. [Notes about food habits of the Cuban Kite (Aves: Accipitridae).] Miscelanea Zoológica, ACC 3:1.
Garrido, O.H. 1985. Cuban endangered birds. Pp. 992-999 in P.A. Buckley, M.S. Foster, E.S. Morton, R.S. Ridgely, and F.G. Buckley (eds.), Neotropical ornithology. Ornithological Monographs no. 36. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
Global Raptor Information Network. 2017. Species account: Cuban Kite Chondrohierax wilsonii. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 1 Feb. 2017
Johnson, J.A., R. Thorstrom, and D.P. Mindell. 2007. Systematics and conservation of the Hook-billed Kite including the island taxa from Cuba and Grenada. Animal Conservation 10:349-359.
Navarro, Nils. 2015. Endemic Birds of Cuba: A Comprehensive Field Guide. Ediciones Nuevos Mundos.
Petersen, B. 2010. Cuban Kite discovery. Birding 42:23.
Raffaele, H., J. Wiley, O. Garrido, A. Keith, and J. Raffaele. 1998. A guide to the birds of the West Indies. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.
Rodríguez Santana, F. 2004. The order Falconiformes in Cuba: status, distribution, migration and conservation. Pp. 835-844 in R.D. Chancellor and B.-U. Meyburg (eds.), Raptors worldwide. World Working Group on Birds of Prey/MME BirdLife Hungary, Berlin and Budapest.
Wotzkow, C. 1994. Status, distribution, current research and conservation of forest birds of prey in Cuba. Pp. 291-299 in B.-U. Meyburg and R.D. Chancellor (eds.), Raptor conservation today. World Working Group on Birds of Prey, Berlin, and Pica Press, London.