Black-shouldered Kites prefer open habitats, ranging from semi-deserts to the edges of and clearings in forests, but they are most abundant in grasslands, fynbos and cultivated fields. The opening up of large areas for cultivation has aided this species to expand its range and increase its populations. They feed on small mammals (rodents make up about 80% of their diet), birds, reptiles, frogs and insects, hunting from a perch or by hovering above. A Black-shouldered Kite consumes at least 2 mice per day – about 25% of its body weight of 250g (average). They have a wingspan of roughly 80cm.
Outside of the spring & summer peak breeding season (though some breed year-round), Black-shouldered Kites often roost communally in groups usually numbering up to 20, though congregations of up to 500 have been recorded. By day they hunt singly or in pairs.
Nests are built of small twigs and lined with finer material, in the tops of trees (or on telephone pylons) that are often used for several consecutive years, though a new nest is built every season. Males defend the territory, but both parents incubate the clutch of 2-6 eggs and bring food back to the hatchlings which emerge after about 5 weeks of incubation. The chicks start flying at about 5 weeks old, but only become fully independent when they are about 4 months old.
The IUCN describes the Black-shouldered Kite as one of the commonest birds-of-prey throughout its wide distribution range, which covers all of Sub-Saharan Africa, parts of North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula, the Indian subcontinent and Indo-China, and considers it of least concern although it is susceptible to accidental poisoning through pest control measures. It occurs in all of South Africa’s nine provinces, being absent only from the driest parts of the Northern Cape.