Mississippi Kite

Mississippi Kite

Details About The Mississippi Kite

  • General Information

    The Mississippi Kite's adult head is white to pale gray, with a small amount of black around the eye. The back and upper wings are slate gray, the white of the upper secondaries can be seen as a patch on the perched bird and as a wide band in flight. In flight - seen from below - the body is medium gray and wings a darker slate gray. The blackish tail is squared and sometimes slightly notched. Immature kites have a brown streaked breast with a striped tail. Their eyes turn from brown to red as they age.

    Latin Name: Ictinia mississippiensis
    Class: Aves
    Order: Falconiformes
    Family: Accipitridae
    Length: 12-15 inches
    Weight: 8-13 ounces
    Wingspan: 41-44 inches
    Common Name: Blue Kite, Gray Kite, Louisiana Kite, Mosquito Kite
    Etymology: ictinia (Greek) - "a kite", mississippiensis - refers to where Wilson collected the type specimen

  • Flight, Voice & Habitat

    The Mississippi Kite's pointed wings give it a rather falcon-like appearance in flight. They spend hours on the wing soaring and gliding effortlessly. Resembles a falcon in outline but slow buoyant flight is distinctive.

    The kite's typical alarm call is a thin, usually two-noted whistle sounding like phee-phew!

    Mississippi Kites use woodlands for nesting. They prefer wooded edges, along major rivers, grasslands, or savanna for foraging. Distribution of populations seem to suggest that this bird is better adapted to prairie riparian habitat and savanna than to continuous forest. In the 1970s, they could be found on golf courses and in city parks. Since kites defend their nests, golfers wore hats with eyes on top or back to keep from being attacked.

  • Nesting

    The Missippi Kite usually breeds at two years old. Pair bonds may be formed on wintering grounds or perhaps during migrations, as they seem to be paired by the time of arrival at nest location. Very little courtship display is seen on breeding grounds. Mississippi Kites will nest in small colonies of 4-6 nests or singularly. They will reuse or refurbish an old nest. They lay 1-2 eggs, and both sexes incubate. Typically Missippi Kites have 29-31 days of incubation, and young are flying by 50 days but fed by parents until at least 60 days old. Sub-adult helpers have been observed helping with incubation, feeding, and defending the nest.

  • Distribution

    The distribution of Mississippi Kites is uneven due to colonial nesting causing clumping of population. Mississippi Kites are spread across the southern part of the Midwest to eastern United States with greatest population numbers in the southern Great Plains area. They are a long distance migrator to South America. In the Carolinas, Mississippi Kites breed in coastal plains expanding into the Piedmont.

  • Food

    Typical of kites, they capture prey, mostly insects, in flight and often eat on the wing. They will also eat some amphibians, reptiles, bats, and occasionally birds.

  • Current Resident Birds

    Aubie, a female Mississippi Kite, came to Carolina Raptor Center from the Southeastern Raptor Center in Auburn, Alabama. (Go War Eagle!) She was named by a donor for her beloved Auburn Tigers and in honor of her original home. Mississippi Kites are rarely found in the Carolinas, but some visit Charlotte on yearly migration stops.

    Orville, a male Mississippi Kite, was found as an orphan in Wilmington, North Carolina. The kite is the inspiration for the name of the toy that is flown in the wind, due to their seemingly effortless soaring. Orville was named in honor of Orville Wright one of the famous Wright Brothers who were "First in Flight" at North Carolina's Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks.

    Panya, a female Mississippi Kite, once made her home at the Schindler Wildlife Center at Asheboro's North Carolina Zoo. She was transferred to Carolina Raptor Center in 2004 and is a long-time member of the education team. Mississippi Kites are primarily insectivores, and she can often be seen munching on her favorite snack - superworms. Panya is a Thai word for Queen or Lord.

  • Fun Facts & Other Interesting Information

    While Mississippi Kites and Peregrine Falcons are similar in body length and wingspan, the Peregrine Falcon can weigh up to three times more. Lightweight bodies help give kites a buoyant, graceful flight. Get the skinny on these birds!

    "Mississippi Kite" is the title of a Kristin Hersh song released by CASH Music in August 2008; “You ... carve out insects to feed us all”.