Scissor-tailed Kite
02 05 023 Chelictinia riocourii
Common Name African Swallow-tailed Kite
Range northern tropics of Africa.
Scientific Classification
Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Class Aves
Order Accipitriformes
Family Accipitridae
Genus Chelictinia
Species Chelictinia riocourii
Conservation Status
Least Concern

The Scissor-tailed kite or African swallow-tailed kite (Chelictinia riocourii) is a species of bird of prey in the Accipitridae family. It is the only member of the genus Chelictinia. It is widespread in the northern tropics of Africa.

Taxonomy and Systematics

The species was illustrated in 1821 for a work by Coenraad Temminck, and described in 1822 by Louis Vieillot. It had been grouped with the Elanus kites or with the larger American swallow-tailed kite; in 1843 René Lesson assigned it to a separate genus, Chelictinia.

The genus name Chelictinia is possibly derived from Greek χελιδών or χελιδονι (chelidon), the swallow, with ικτινοσ (iktinos), the kite. The specific epithet riocourii honours the Count Rioucour, Antoine François du Bois "first president in the Royal Court of Nancy, and possessor of a beautiful collection of birds". However, some sources refer to his son, Antoine Nicolas François, who was a contemporary of Vieillot.


Its plumage is mid-grey above and white below. Though lacking the black shoulder patches of Elanus on the upper surface of its wings, it does have them on the under-side. The tail is long and deeply forked, and the wings are long and pointed, with the second primary feather the longest. The legs and feet are yellow, with reticulated scales. Bill is black, with light yellow cere. Its eyes (irides) are red, and there is a small black patch above the eye, similar to that in Elanus species. It is 36 centimetres (1 ft 2 in) long from beak to tail-tip, of which the tail is 23 centimetres (9 in).

Distribution and Habitat

The species inhabits the arid savannah of the Sahel region of Africa, occurring mainly in a band between 8° and 15° N that stretches from Senegal on the west coast to Sudan in the east. There are also populations breeding in Ethiopia and Kenya.

It is found in many countries, including: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Ivory Coast, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, Togo, Uganda, and is also found in Yemen.

Behavior and Ecology

Although primarily preying on insects and spiders, during the breeding season, it also takes lizards and rodents. It hunts on the wing, by soaring and hovering before descending to hawk the flying prey or catch it on the ground. This is a gregarious species, sleeping at communal roost at night and hunting in loose flocks. It may also nest in loose colonies. The small stick nest is placed in thick thorny bush. Usually four eggs are laid. This kite performs regular seasonal movements related to the rains.


The species is vulnerable to degradation of the habitat and pesticides. However, populations seem to be locally common in spite of decline in some parts of the range.

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