A spread-winged kite tips its head and looks down from a cloudless sky, silent as a spiderling’s gossamer thread adrift on the breeze. The kite twists its tail in a slow, leisurely motion as it looks down. As it examines the ground under it, time is on its side. The delicate movement begins from the base of the bird’s tail and is conveyed along the length of the long, broad tail feathers, resulting in an exquisite twist at the fanning tail tip that propels the bird into a banking curve.
The kite’s wide wings enfold the warm mild air, and the bird soars even higher, its twisting tail, at first square-ended, now delicately notched, leading the way, and the bird drifts carelessly away above the fields to a nearby woodland edge. This scene may take place anywhere in Japan, from Okinawa to Hokkaido, because the Black-eared Kite is the country’s most frequent raptor and bird scavenger. There are many other raptors in Japan, but none are as easily and commonly seen, nor are they found in such a diverse range of habitats.
The kite’s form alone is enough to induce a mobbing response from crows while they are in pursuit. The ruthless crows swoop down and pursue the kites in the air and when they are perched. Kites are classed as birds of prey, yet they are not predators, contrary to popular belief. Kites are scavengers, unlike their mammalian, reptile, and bird-hunting relatives the eagles, hawks, and falcons. They have the same keen eyesight as their predatory raptor cousins, yet they have weak feet and little, wimpy bills. It’s an aerial pursuit of the undead for them. They can be found soaring carelessly over wide fields, drifting along carelessly above any road, river, estuary, or stretch of shoreline.
You might catch a glimpse of the kite’s recognition moment if you keep an eye on it for a bit. Its seemingly unending silent glide flight comes to an unexpected end in a sharp banking turn; it spirals down to the ground and lands violently. It appears clumsy for a brief period, but once it spreads its massive wings, it quickly regains its composure and is soon scavenging at the carcass of a dead frog, a road-killed mouse, or a tide-washed fish. Earthworms, beetles, and bugs, as well as amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds, are all grist for the kite’s mill — as long as they are dead.