No-string Kites

White-tailed Kite juvenile

With the great annual Berkeley Kite Fest almost upon us I feel compelled to make clear in the headline of this post that it’s about the feathered and untethered kind of kite, not the strung-up plastic and fabric sort.  So, I was walking in the Berkeley Meadow, next door to Cesar Chavez Park, where I sometimes go to check it out, and I was just about at the end of the trail and resigned to seeing literally nothing in the way of camera-edible wildlife, not even something novel in the way of plants.  There’s days like that.

And then a large bird swooped out of the sky and landed on a fence post directly ahead of me.  I’d seen White-tailed Kites several times before here in the Meadow and in the Park, and this was a White-tailed Kite, beyond a doubt.  It rested on the post for a few moments, and took off.  I walked on, and spotted a white something in the bushes to my left.  Set up the camera, focus: yes, another one.  And then a third nearby.  And then a fourth, on the same bush as the second.  Two of them had the light brown, orange-cinnamon headtop feathers and bib that mark the juveniles of the species.  They sat, working to keep their balance in the stiff breeze, sometimes awkwardly, getting wings caught in the branches.  Two of them opened their bills wide and made a raspy, hissing sound, a bit like a hissing cat but rougher.  When it suited them, they flew off.

I saw two of them clash in the sky, in a gesture that might have been hostile between strangers, but seemed like play here between family members.  After hovering in midair the way they do, like big slow hummingbirds, and catching nothing, one parent and one youngster — seemingly bigger than the parent — perched together on a high branch, swaying in the wind.

The success of the original pair at breeding and raising a pair of fledglings to full size is great news for the Meadow and for the Marina.  Nothing says that a habitat is working as plainly as successful reproduction, particularly of raptors at the top of the food chain.  The bird sites I’ve consulted don’t say whether offspring usually stay in the same territory as their parents or move away.  Time will tell.

The video shows the strong breeze prevailing at the time.  The resulting wind noise wrecked the audio track on almost every take.  I’ve left the audio on only for the brief segments where the kites make their raspy hissing noises.

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