White-tailed Kites are both nimble and quick and both characteristics are necessary in the aerial feeding exchange that frequently occurs between the male and female and between the adult male and his chicks when he is weaning them from the nest. (In the Kite world Dad Kite does all the hunting and feeding.)
The adult males are sharp-eyed, skilled hunters and need to be since they provide food for both their mates and their chicks. For much of the time while the females are nesting food deliver is straightforward; fly over the nest holding the mouse or vole by one foot and drop it into the nest. Whereupon the female will tear the rodent apart, feed some to her chicks and devouring some herself.
When the female is not nesting, the male may bring the rodent to a branch and hold it there, waiting for the female to join him. When she sits beside him, (I have only seen the female sit on his right) the male will drape the rodent over the branch and step to the left, following which she will step over the rodent and take it for her own.
This is not easy to do when on a swaying branch but it far easier than the second approach. The second approach is the Aerial Exchange or “Hand-Off.”
The Aerial Exchange
The aerial exchange or “hand-off” is both a part of the mating ritual and an ongoing feeding practice that may or may not be a continuation of the mating ritual. (Personally, I think it is as there is no other reason to do it since side-by-side perching and exchanging is common and certainly easier to perform.) During the exchange, the male brings a rodent, which he dangles from one foot.
Some authorities say that this is performed prior to mating and it may be, but I have seen several occasions when it is performed immediately following an episode of coitus, which occurs several times during the mating period.
Weaning the Chicks
When the adult male is tired of bringing food to his fledgling juveniles, he approaches with a dangling rodent to tempt them from the nest. When they are hungry enough and tired of screaming with no response, they will fly from the nest and one or another will approach the male and try to maneuver into position to grab the mouse.
The next step in the luring process is to tempt them with a rodent and fly, with them following, to an open area, drop the rodent to the ground, and leave it there for them to land and consume. The last step is to demonstrate diving (stooping) and pouncing on a prey and biting through its neck.
The hand-off shown here occurred after the nest fell to the ground before the fledglings were ready to leave. One in particular was calling for food while standing on a branch just above the site of the fallen nest.
The male intelligently positioned this transfer just above and to the side to where the screaming juvenile would see it.
(Normally the hand-off would have been above the tree where mating took place.)
Your comments & questions much appreciated