Mississippi Kites

by Lisa Wolling, Executive Director

Having lived in Montgomery County for over 25 years now, I’ve seen lots of changes in the area wildlife, especially with certain types of birds. Years ago, we used to have flocks of goldfinches winter here, but they don’t seem to be as prevalent lately. We have always had flocks of migratory robins, but in the last ten years or so, it also seems that many robins have decided to stay in our area year round, and they are now nesting and raising young here. When I first started as a wildlife rehabilitator, we almost never saw Mississippi Kites; maybe one of two injured adult birds would come in every year. However, in the last few years it seems their numbers are increasing in our area, and the last two years we have confirmed that they are indeed nesting and breeding in our area. These small hawks are quite striking in looks, and they are excellent hunters of insects, so they are awesome birds to have around.

Despite its name, the Mississippi Kite it is most commonly found in the southern Great Plains. Mississippi Kites are slender, small raptors with long, pointed wings. The tail is relatively long for their size and square-tipped. They have small, strongly hooked beaks. This smaller hawk (13-17”) is roughly crow sized, sometimes slightly larger, with females being noticeably larger than males. They generally weigh under one pound. Juvenile birds are brown with buff to white streaking, and they do not resemble adult birds in any way. Adult plumage is whitish gray to gray and black, and they have striking ruby-red eyes. Adult wing tips are black. This graceful flyer glides, circles, and swoops in pursuit of large flying insects. Kites catch large, flying insects high in the air, often then holding their prey in one foot and eating them while on the fly. Most commonly-consumed insects include beetles, leafhoppers, cicadas, dragonflies, moths, and grasshoppers. In addition, they may hunt on the fly for smaller birds, such as swifts or swallows. Kites can dip down to catch prey on or near the ground as well, such as reptiles, amphibians, rodents, or occasionally fish. They also fly out from perches in trees or bushes to ambush passing insects. Kites have also been known to scavenge on road-killed animals.

In recent decades, the planting of trees in towns and communities has made it possible for this bird to nest in many areas where it was formerly scarce. Mississippi Kites often nest in loose colonies, although individual pairs are monogamous. They generally nest in trees 20-35′ above ground. In plains areas where trees are not as tall, they will nest in oak or mesquite trees as low as 6′. The nest is constructed by both parents, and is a rather flimsy platform of dead twigs, lined with leaves. The adults usually continue to add leaves or other greenery all during the nesting season. In our area, they seem to nest in June or early July. Usually they have 1 to 3 eggs, which are lightly spotted white to pale blue. Both parents incubate the eggs for 29-31 days. Once the young hatch, both parents care for them. At first, adults may feed the hatchlings mostly regurgitated insects. As the young grow, they may bring larger prey, such as carrion, snakes, bats, frogs and toads, smaller birds, or rodents. The young begin branching at about four weeks old, and they may make first flights at about five weeks old. The parents continue to feed them for at least 8 weeks after hatching.

To learn more about what we do and view pictures of many of the animals we assist, please visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/SavingTexasWildlife. Our educational visitor’s center is open the second Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., located at 29816 Dobbin Hufsmith Road, Magnolia, Texas, so the next open house date will be Saturday, September 8. Come on out and visit us, learn a little more about local wildlife, do some fun activities and a craft, and meet some of our non-releasable educational animals. We also host birthday parties and educational presentations. If you’d like to help us raise some much-needed funds and have a great time in the process, join us on October 13 for our “Nibbles and Sips” Dessert Tasting fundraiser. This event, to be held from 6-9 pm at the Spring Chateau, will feature dessert tastings paired with a variety of wine, beer, sparkling cider, and mulling spices as well as an awesome silent auction (advance ticket sales only at www.ftwl.org; no tickets will be sold at the event). For more information about events, birthday parties, camps, or educational presentations for scouts or school groups, please visit our website or email ftwl.education@gmail.com. There are many ways you can help support our efforts too. Details can be found at www.ftwl.org, and then click on “How to Help”.