This species is classified as critically endangered by BirdLife International. The current population is estimated 50 to 249 mature birds. After a last confirmed sighting in 2001 and an unconfirmed sighting in 2004 Cuban ornithologist Nils Navarro Pacheco took a photograph of one individual in 2009.
The Clements Checklist and the AOU consider it as subspecies of the hook-billed kite. A molecular phylogenetics analysis using mitochondrial DNA suggests that it warrants species status having diverged from the mainland lineage approximately 400,000 to 1.5 million years ago.