Letter-winged kite (Elanus scriptus)
The letter-winged kite (Elanus scriptus) is a small, rare and irruptive Australian raptor with a core range in central Australia. It is similar in appearance to the black-shouldered kite except for a very distinctive black underwing pattern of a shallow ‘M’ shape, seen when in flight. It is largely nocturnal, roosting during the day in well-foliaged trees.
The usual habitat of the letter-winged kite is semi-arid open, shrubby or grassy country. Its principal prey is the long-haired rat, Rattus villosissimus. When population numbers of this rodent build up, following good rainfall, the kites are able to breed continuously and colonially so that their numbers increase in parallel. When the rodent populations decline, the now superabundant kites may disperse and appear in coastal areas far from their normal range in which, though they may occasionally breed, they do not persist and eventually disappear.