Brahminy Kite Haliastur indus Scientific name definitions

Stephen Debus, Tim S. David, Jeffrey S. Marks, and Guy M. Kirwan
Version: 1.2 — Published October 1, 2021


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Brahminy Kite is a small diurnal bird of prey. Adults in definitive basic plumage are unmistakable with bright white head and chest, and bright rufous back, wings, belly, and tail. Female is larger than male, distinguished by size when together. Young birds in juvenile plumage are streaked brown.

Similar Species

In its range, adult Brahminy Kites are unmistakable. Juvenile plumage can be confused with both juvenile plumage and definitive basic plumage of Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus), which are more spotted at all ages. Juvenile plumage can also be confused with Black Kite (Milvus migrans), although Black Kites have forked tails. The tail tip can appear straight, not forked, when the tail is fanned. The Brahminy Kite's tail tip is rounded.


Brahminy Kites have 10 full-length primaries (numbered distally, p1 to p10), 13-14 secondaries (numbered proximally s1– s10 or s11 and including three tertials, numbered distally t1- t3), and 12 rectrices (numbered distally, r1- r6, on each side of the tail).

Accipitrid hawks including Brahminy Kites are diastataxic (see 1 ), indicating that, through evolution, a secondary has been lost between what we now term s4 and s5.

The following is based primarily on detailed plumage descriptions of the nominate subspecies (see Systematics: Subspecies).

See Molts section below for molt and plumage terminology.

Natal Down

A downy chick has a creamy head with the rest of the body warm brown . Buff streak runs down center of the head and around the neck. ( 2 )

Juvenile Plumage

Juvenile Brahminy Kite looks streaked from white feather shafts against brown head, chest, and wings. Wing coverts are brown. Lesser underwing coverts are dark brown. Median and greater underwing coverts have light and dark brown pattern. Secondaries are dark brown. Inner primaries (p1-p4) are barred pale brown. Outer primaries (p5- p10) are barred pale brown with black tips.

Formative Plumage

Formative Plumage has not been documented but may occur in some individuals (see Molt section below). If exists, it would be very similar to Juvenile in worn plumage but with scattered newer formative upperpart and underpart feathers .

Definitive Basic Plumage

In definitive basic plumage, Brahminy Kite has bright white head and chest, and bright rufous back, wings, belly, and tail. Fine black streaks on white head, mantle, and breast are black shafts. From below, secondaries and inner primaries (p1-p4) are light brown. P5 - p10 have black tips. Lesser and median underwing coverts are bright rufous. Greater underwing coverts are light brown.


Molt and plumage terminology follows Humphrey and Parkes ( 3 ) as modified by Howell et al. ( 4 , 5 ); see also Pyle ( 6 , 7 ) and Clark and Pyle ( 8 ).

Prejuvenile Molt

Prejuvenile molt is completed in the nest. There is no information on timing of pennaceous feather development.

Preformative Molt

Preformative molt starts with scattered feathers of the mantle and scapulars long before flight feather replacement commences during the second prebasic molt. The range of variation in feather replacement unknown; it could be absent in some individuals.

Second Prebasic Molt

Second prebasic molt begins at approximately 1 year old. In most raptors it begins earlier in molting season than definitive prebasic molt due to lack of breeding constraints. ( 7 )

Definitive Prebasic Molt

Brahminy Kite continues to molt once every year.

Bare Parts

Bills and Cere

Bills are greenish yellow with blue bases. Cere is gray in juvenile and lemon yellow in adult.

Iris and Facial Skin

Iris is brown.

Tarsi and Toes

Legs and feet are yellow with black claws.


Measurements from 9.


45-51 cm.


109-124 cm.

Body weight

520-700 g.

Recommended Citation

Debus, S., T. S. David, J. S. Marks, and G. M. Kirwan (2021). Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus), version 1.2. In Birds of the World (P. Pyle, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.brakit1.01.2