Mississippi KiteIctinia mississippiensis

adult male
Greg Lasley/VIREO
adult female
Brian K. Wheeler/VIREO
juvenile
Dustin Huntington/VIREO
adult male
Richard Stade/VIREO
immature female (1st yr)
Brian K. Wheeler/VIREO

Description

One of our most graceful fliers, this kite glides, circles, and swoops in pursuit of large flying insects. Despite the name, it is most common on the southern Great Plains. During recent decades, the planting of trees in shelterbelts and towns has made it possible for this bird to nest in many areas where it was formerly scarce; many towns on the southern plains now have their own nesting colonies of Mississippi Kites.

Habitat

Wooded streams; groves, shelterbelts. For nesting, requires trees (preferably tall) next to open country. In southeast, found mostly in groves of trees along rivers or swamps where surrounding country is more open. On plains and in southwest, nests in tall trees along rivers, in towns, or in groves or shelterbelts on prairie.

Feeding Diet

Mostly large insects. Major items in diet include cicadas, grasshoppers, katydids, beetles, and dragonflies; also eats moths, bees, and other insects, mainly large ones. In addition, eats lesser numbers of frogs, toads, snakes, bats, rodents, small birds, turtles.

Feeding Behavior

Catches many large flying insects high in the air in graceful maneuvers, often then holding these in one foot and eating them while soaring. Also skims low to catch prey on or near the ground. Sometimes flies out from a perch to catch passing insects. Pursues bats and flying birds (such as swallows and swifts) in the air. Sometimes catches insects that have been flushed from the grass by herds of grazing animals or by fire. Also scavenges road-killed animals at times (this may account for occasional large rodents or turtles in diet).

Nesting

Usually nests in loose colonies. Courtship behavior not well known, may involve aerial acrobatics, and posturing while perched. Nest site is in tree, usually near edge of woodlot, usually 20-35' above ground; can be up to 140' high. In oaks or mesquites on plains, may be as low as 6'. Nest (built by both sexes) is rather flimsy platform of dead twigs, lined with green leaves. Adults continue to add greenery to nest during season. Eggs: 1-2. White. Incubation is by both parents, 29-31 days. Young: Both parents care for the young, brooding them in cool weather and shading them at mid-day. Both parents bring food for young. At first, may feed young mostly insects, regurgitated into nest; may bring larger prey later. Young may climb out of nest onto nearby branches at age about 4 weeks, may make first flights at about 5 weeks. Adults continue to feed them for at least 8 weeks after hatching.

Eggs

1-2. White. Incubation is by both parents, 29-31 days. Young: Both parents care for the young, brooding them in cool weather and shading them at mid-day. Both parents bring food for young. At first, may feed young mostly insects, regurgitated into nest; may bring larger prey later. Young may climb out of nest onto nearby branches at age about 4 weeks, may make first flights at about 5 weeks. Adults continue to feed them for at least 8 weeks after hatching.

Young

Both parents care for the young, brooding them in cool weather and shading them at mid-day. Both parents bring food for young. At first, may feed young mostly insects, regurgitated into nest; may bring larger prey later. Young may climb out of nest onto nearby branches at age about 4 weeks, may make first flights at about 5 weeks. Adults continue to feed them for at least 8 weeks after hatching.

Conservation

Since about 1950, populations in some areas (such as southern Great Plains) have greatly increased, and range has extended into parts of the southwest where this kite was previously absent.

Range

A long-distance migrant, wintering in southern South America. Migrates in flocks; sometimes seen in very large concentrations in Texas and Mexico.

Similar Species

adult

Swallow-tailed Kite

Our most beautiful bird of prey, striking in its shape, its pattern, and its extraordinarily graceful flight. Hanging motionless in the air, swooping and gliding, rolling upside down and then zooming high in the air with scarcely a motion of its wings, the Swallow-tailed Kite is a joy to watch. At one time it was common in summer over much of the southeast, but today it is found mostly in Florida and a few other areas of the deep south.

adult

White-tailed Kite

As recently as the 1940s, this graceful hawk was considered rare and endangered in North America, restricted to a few sites in California and Texas. In recent decades, it has increased greatly in numbers and spread into many new areas. It is often seen hovering on rapidly beating wings over open fields, looking for small rodents, its main food source. The introduction of the house mouse from Europe may have played a part in its increase; formerly, the kite fed almost entirely on voles.

adult

Peregrine Falcon

One of the world's fastest birds; in power-diving from great heights to strike prey, the Peregrine may possibly reach 200 miles per hour. Regarded by falconers and biologists alike as one of the noblest and most spectacular of all birds of prey. Although it is found on six continents, the Peregrine is uncommon in most areas; it was seriously endangered in the mid-20th century because of the effects of DDT and other persistent pesticides.

Vireo

iPad Promo