A kite is not a kite is never another kite

There are times when the hyper-connected world really bothers me. I know the bird that you see here as the black-shouldered kite. But I must learn to call it a black-winged kite (Elanus caeruleus). There is a different bird called a black-shouldered kite in Australia, and I rant about the jetset bird-watchers across the world for whom we must change the common name for this bird. Would this coincidence mess up their lists all that much?

This is a misplaced rant, though, because the real reason for this distinction is different. The black-shouldered kite was long thought to range down to Australia and across the Atlantic to the Americas. It was only realized recently that the label hid three distinct species: E. caeruleus, which ranges from the Iberian plateau across Africa and India to Sundaland), the Australian E. axillaris, and the new-world species E. leucurus. The change of names is necessary because of a new discovery. Still, I rant because common names need not change by the fiat of a committee. Tracking species is the domain of the Latin binomials, not of the common tongue.

That morning in Bera when we halted the jeep near this docked tree and watched the bird, we were content just to look at what was in front of us. I had a close look at one after months, and I studied its scaly claws. These scales are distinctive to the genus, and not found in the Milvus kites. In fact, Elanus are thought to be the link between owls and kites. Looking at the recessed eyes, and somewhat flat face, I could imagine it. I waited for it to fly, but when it did it pushed itself back, away from us, and turned instantly away. This manoeuvre was so owlish that I hadn’t expected it, and missed the shot of its take off. Another time. They are common, after all.


By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.


  1. I agree with you wholeheartedly. The common name need not change, it’s what we’re all used to and I’m sure it has little impact on the world scale

    Liked by 1 person

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