January is black kite watching month. On Sai Kung pier between 4pm and sunset the bird watchers gather to view and film whirling throngs of their feathered friends.
The most common birds of prey, black kites are “at once familiar and enigmatic,” Dr Martin Williams of HK Outdoors said. Familiar because a hundred or so live here all year round and a couple of thousand fly in for the winter, while enigmatic because nobody knows where they go to breed: northern China, Mongolia, Russia?
Dr Williams and the bird watchers campaign to have Yeung Chow island near the pier zoned as a conservation area for the birds. War-games scare them away, he said.
Black kites are not black: they’re streaky brown with forked tails and finger-like wing feathers. They’re raptors believed to be descendants of velociraptors. Pirates of the air, they are opportunists, scavengers and they will steal from other birds. Spotting food they tuck in their wings and dive, talons extended. Kites have a lot to say with a shrill whistle followed by a whinnying call.
Aerobatic displays are performed to woo mates. This aerial courtship involves calling, flapping, diving and sometimes locking of talons and tumbling together. Black kits are sociable birds forming large groups of hundreds soaring and gliding together. Both sexes build nests usually in sheltered spots in trees and often with coloured materials to warn off other birds. They are very caring parents, feeding the chicks and watching over the nests.
In Hong Kong black kits have a beer named after them.