Not often confused with other raptors, the White-tailed kite can be identified in the field fairly easily. Small to medium in size, kites have long white tails with relatively long, thin and pointed wings. Wing and tail shape help them maintain a hovering position in the air. Adults are white underneath and gray on the back. Sexes are similar in size but the female may be darker on the back. While in flight a characteristic black spot can be seen at the bend of the underside of the wing. Their yellow legs are short, and their toes are stout. Adults have red eyes.
These small-bodied raptors are unique in their hover-hunting style. Rarely seen perch-hunting, like other raptors, these birds hover 5-25 meters off the ground, both early and late in the day. Facing into the wind, they scan back and forth for prey items; while also scanning side to side for predators and competitors. These hovers last between one second to less than one minute. Longer hovers have been recorded during windy conditions. The hover sessions end in either a dive to the ground with wings in a vertical position and feet extended out for prey or to another hover location. Sometimes, these hovers will also end in an interaction with another bird or the kite flying to a perch to end the hunting session.