Living Bird Magazine
Mississippi KiteIctinia mississippiensis
- ORDER: Accipitriformes
- FAMILY: Accipitridae
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.More ID Info
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.
- Elanio del Misisipi (Spanish)
- Milan du Mississippi (French)
- Cool Facts
- Mississippi Kites in the Southeast lead a different life from kites in prairie states to the west. Western birds usually nest colonially in small woodlands on the prairie, where they can be locally abundant. Eastern birds are less abundant, breed in old-growth forest, and are less likely to nest in colonies.
- Mississippi Kites have increased in the western part of their range thanks to recent changes in the landscape, such as shelterbelts planted by farmers and ranchers. When they nest in city parks and golf courses it can be problematic since the kites tend to dive-bomb people who come too close to their nests.
- Nestlings preen each other, arrange nesting material together, and show very little aggression toward their siblings—unusual traits for raptor chicks. At 25-30 days of age they start moving from the nest to nearby tree limbs and back, and they leap into flight several days later.
- The kite’s nest may be located next to (or even contain) a wasp nest, which probably helps protect the chicks against climbing predators. Smaller bird species—such as Northern Mockingbirds, Blue Jays, and House Sparrows—may nest near or on kite nests, usually coexisting peacefully with the kites.
- A 1-year-old kite will often hang around the nest of a breeding pair and may help with defending the nest, incubating the eggs, or even brooding the chicks. The pair usually accepts the help, but sometimes chases the yearling away.
- The oldest Mississippi Kite on record was at least 11 years, 2 months old when it was found in Texas in 1995. It had been banded in 1984 in Kansas.