Scissor-tailed Kite Chelictinia riocourii


Justification of Red List Category
This species is suspected to be experiencing moderately rapid declines owing to habitat loss and degradation. It is therefore listed as Vulnerable.

Population justification
Ferguson-Lees and Christie (2001) place the population in the band 10,001-100,000. A single roost of 36,000 birds was reported from Senegal in 2008 (Pilard et al. 2011) and a further 10,000 birds at a roost in Mali in 2012 (Buij et al. 2013). In the absence of information from other parts of the range, the population is suspected to be c. 46,000-100,000 birds, roughly equating to 30,000-67,000 mature individuals.

Trend justification
Roadside surveys in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger from 1969-2004 revealed population declines of 84% in unprotected areas for this species (Thiollay 2006), equating to 47.3% over three generations (11.55 years [Bird et al. 2020]). Numbers in protected areas also declined (by 66% over three generations), but this decline was not statistically significant (Thiollay 2006). Declines of 40-50% from 1973-2000 were also reported in Cameroon (Thiollay 2001), equating to 25.4% over three generations (further surveys of the same routes during 2007-2010 suggested that average encounter rates had increased by 77% since the original surveys, although this result was strongly influenced by a single high count on one transect [R. Buij pers. comm.]). Combining the results of these two studies, weighted by the area occupied by the Scissor-tailed Kite in each country, the species appears to have declined by 5.4% p.a. in West Africa during the 1970s-2000s, equating to 47% when projected over three generations. 

There is very little information available on population trends further east in the species's breeding range or in its wintering range. Declines are thought to be predominantly due to degradation of arid ecosystems and wetland forests resulting from expanding cultivation, woodcutting and overgrazing by livestock (Buij 2013), alongside improved locust control measures and use of pesticides (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). These factors have led to extremely low nesting success in Cameroon (17%) and Senegal (4%) (Buij et al. 2013). As these pressures are ongoing and widespread throughout the Sahel (Walther 2016), it is suspected that population declines are occurring throughout the species’s breeding range. In Kenya, no Scissor-tailed Kites were recorded during road surveys conducted during September-May 1970-1977 (8,659 km surveyed), and only three birds were seen during repeat surveys in 2003-2020 (14,415 km surveyed) (P. Shaw, R. Buij, J. M. Thiollay, S. Thomsett, Z. Cockar and D. Ogada in litt. 2021). 

The species is provisionally suspected to be declining at a rate of 30-49% over three generations. Based on the likelihood that the threats of habitat destruction and degradation will continue, it is suspected that the rates of decline will continue into the future.

Distribution and population

This species is found from southern Mauritania, Senegal and The Gambia in the west to South and North East Uganda and Kenya in the east (Kemp et al. 2020). It is distributed across the breadth of the Afrotropics, but in a narrow band largely confined to 15°N to 8°N (with extreme occurrence as much as 19°N in West Africa to 1°S in Kenya).


Behaviour It breeds within the Sahel zone and there is a small resident population in northern Kenya and Uganda (Ferguson- Lees and Christie, 2001). It is migratory, moving south (albeit remaining in the northern hemisphere) in November after breeding, coinciding with the start of the dry season. It returns north when the rains begin in February and the overall extent of migration fluctuates annually (del Hoyo et al., 1994). Habitat The species occupies arid savannah and semi-desert habitats from sea level up to 500m (Ferguson- Lees and Christie, 2001). Diet Its main prey comprises reptiles such as lizards and snakes, insects and spiders, and occasionally small rodents. It gregarious and will gather in groups at the edge of grass fires to capture Orthoptera or near cattle herds to capture insects (Ferguson- Lees and Christie, 2001; del Hoyo et al., 1994). Breeding Site The species constructs small stick nests (30-40cm diameter) in thorn trees often near to the nests of larger raptors such as Secretarybird and Snake-eagle and sometimes also close to human settlement. Breeding occurs in May to September in the majority of its range, but in Senegal it occurs from December to February and in Kenya from March to June or from August onwards (Ferguson- Lees and Christie, 2001).


The species has declined over West Africa since the 1970s as a result of locust control, and it is vulnerable to pesticides (Kemp et al. 2020). Given its reliance on the Sahel zone it is likely to be vulnerable to the on-going deterioration of this environment (del Hoyo et al. 1994; Ferguson- Lees and Christie 2001; Walther 2016). Threats to birds breeding in the Sahel include cultivation, wood harvesting and overgrazing (Buij et al. 2013). Extensive loss of floodplain forests in West Africa has reduced the availability of nesting and roosting sites, possibly forcing higher nesting densities in remaining suitable habitat and lowering productivity due to intraspecific interactions (Buij et al 2013). The trade in live raptors is increasing (Thiollay 2007), which may affect this species, however there is limited information as to what they are traded for, and how many are captured and sold. Tourists and naturalists visiting a large roost site at l'Ile de Kousmar in Senegal may cause disturbance (Pilard et al. 2011). Climate change and habitat destruction have turned large areas of suitable semi-arid habitat into impoverished arid zones (P. Shaw, R. Buij, J. M. Thiollay, S. Thomsett, Z. Cockar and D. Ogada in litt. 2021).

Conservation actions

Conservation actions underway 
Chelictinia riocourii is listed on CITES Appendix II, CMS Appendix II and Raptors MoU Category 2.

Conservation actions proposed
This species is suspected to be declining throughout its range, however most surveys have taken place in West Africa. Monitoring across the rest of its range would provide a greater understanding of overall population trends. Research the levels of trade affecting this species, and how many are captured and sold. Protect sites from disturbance from tourists and naturalists, particularly the roost site at l'Ile de Kousmar in Senegal. Restore floodplain forests and semi-arid habitats. Install artificial nest and roost site alternatives. Consider alternative methods for locust control to reduce the use of pesticides.


Text account compilers
Clark, J., Haskell, L.

Ashpole, J, Buij, R., Butchart, S., Cockar, Z., Ekstrom, J., Harding, M., Ogada, D., Shaw, P., Thiollay, J.-M. & Thomsett, S.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Chelictinia riocourii. Downloaded from on 29/06/2022. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2022) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 29/06/2022.