Diurnal raptor. The Black Kite can be distinguished from the Red Kite by its slightly smaller size, less forked tail, visible in flight and generally dark plumage without any rufous. The sexes are alike. The upper plumage is brown but the head and neck tend to be paler. The patch behind the eye appears darker. The outer flight feathers are black and the feathers have dark cross bars and are mottled at the base. The lower parts of the body are pale brown, becoming lighter towards the chin. The body feathers have dark shafts giving it a streaked appearance. The cere and gape are yellow but the bill is black (unlike in the Yellow-billed Kite). The legs are yellow and the claws are black. They have a distinctive shrill whistle followed by a rapid whinnying call. Black Kites are most often seen gliding and soaring on thermals as they search for food. The flight is buoyant and the bird glides with ease, changing directions easily. They will swoop down with their legs lowered to snatch small live prey, fish, household refuse and carrion.
The species is found in Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. The temperate populations of this kite tend to be migratory while the tropical ones are resident.