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Mississippi Kite

Ictinia mississippiensis ORDER: ACCIPITRIFORMES FAMILY: ACCIPITRIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Mississippi Kite makes a streamlined silhouette as it careens through the sky on the hunt for small prey, or dive-bombs intruders that come too close to its nest tree. These sleek, pearly gray raptors often hunt together and nest colonially in stands of trees, from windbreaks on southern prairies to old-growth bottomlands in the Southeast (and even on city parks and golf courses). After rearing their chicks they fly all the way to central South America for the winter.

Keys to identification Help

Hawks
Hawks
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Mississippi Kites are slender, fairly small raptors with long, pointed wings. The tail is fairly long and square-tipped. The strongly hooked bill is small and delicate.

  • Color Pattern

    Mississippi Kites are an inky mix of gray and black, lightening to pale gray-white on the head and in the secondaries of the wings. The wingtips and tail are black. Juveniles are streaky, with brownish chests and underwings, and banded tails.

  • Behavior

    These birds are excellent aerialists, spending much of their time aloft and sailing in the wind or flying with buoyant wingbeats. They are agile enough to catch insects, even dragonflies, on the wing. They may form large flocks during migration.

  • Habitat

    They live in bottomland hardwood forests of the Southeast and in tree-lined areas of the southern prairies including windbreaks, shelterbelts, parks, and urban areas.

Range Map Help

Mississippi Kite Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

Similar Species

Similar Species

White-tailed Kite's range is mostly farther west than Mississippi Kite, although the two species do overlap in parts of Texas. White-tailed Kite is much brighter white than the grayish-black Mississippi Kite, and has bold black patches on the shoulders. At distance, a Peregrine Falcon can look like a soaring Mississippi Kite, although the falcon is more powerful and less light and buoyant in flight. When close enough to see details, the Peregrine has a dark head and uniformly shaded wings, whereas Mississippi Kite has darker wingtips and pale patches in the secondaries. Female and young Northern Harriers can resemble young Mississippi Kites, but harriers have longer, less pointed wings, fly with their wings held in a V-shape (dihedral), and always show a white rump. Male Northern Harriers are much paler below than adult Mississippi Kites, and also show the harrier’s typical dihedral and white rump patch.

Find This Bird

To find Mississippi Kites, head to the Southeast or the southern prairies of Texas and Oklahoma during the summer. Keep your eyes raised, as these birds spend a lot of their time in the air. Though they can sometimes be very high, they often sail on the wind not much above treetop level, where they zero in on flying insects to catch and devour them on the wing. In the Southeast you’ll have your best luck around large wooded wetlands, but in Texas and Oklahoma don’t discount urban settings, where you may spot them soaring above athletic fields or perching on tall buildings.

You Might Also Like

Nothing to Do But Soar?: The curious expansion of the Mississippi Kite. Spring 2012 Living Bird magazine

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