Whilst birding the pivot irrigation fields near Tabuk in early October we found hundreds of Black Kites. Many birds will be on passage at this time of year but many more will saty throughout the winter. Some birds looked like typical Black Kites and others like the very similar subspecies Black-eared Kite. The Black Kite is a medium-sized bird of prey that is a widespread species throughout the temperate and tropical parts of Eurasia and parts of Australasia.
The two sub-species, European Black Kite & Black-eared Kite are uncommon to rare migrants, mainly in the spring, and winter visitors to Saudi Arabia. European Black Kite Milvus migrans migrans- Breeds Central, Southern and Eastern Europe to Tien Shan and south to NW Pakistan. Winters in sub-Saharan Africa.Black-eared Kite Milvus migrans lineatus – Siberia to Amurland South around Himalaya to Iran, Northern India, Northern Indochina and Southern China; Japan.
Northern inland birds migrate to East Persian Gulf coast and South Asia in winter. Recent DNA studies (Jeff A. Johnson, Richard T. Watson and David P. Mindell (2005) Prioritising species conservation: does the Cape Verde kite exist? Proc. R. Soc. B 272:1365–1371) suggests that the Black-eared Kite (M. m. lineatus), is not sufficiently distinctive to justify specific status.
As molecular information is much more reliable in this species than in the Red Kite, the Black-eared Kite should be regarded a distinct allopatric subspecies. Another reason why lineatus and migrans are probably distinct sub-species is there is a large interbreeding zone in Central Asia, Siberia & Mongolia.
These intergrades may well also occur in Saudi Arabia and as a result the Black Kite situation in Saudi Arabia is very complicated and many birds are often best left as unidentified to sub-species level.