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Mississippi Kite
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Mississippi Kite

Mississippi Kite
Taxonomy:
Class: Aves
Order: Falconiformes
Family: Accipitridae
Subfamily: Accipitrinae
Genus: Ictinia



Length: 12-15 in.
Weight: 8-13 oz.
Wingspan: 41-44 in.
Common Name: blue kite, gray kite, Louisiana kite, mosquito kite
Etymology: ictinia (Greek) - "a kite"; mississippiensis - refers to where Wilson collected the type specimen
Description: 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 brown streaked breast with striped tail. Eyes turn from brown to red as they age.

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Flight, Voice, and Habitat:

Flight:
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.

Voice:
Typical alarm call is a thin, usually two-noted whistle sounding like phee-phew!

Habitat:
Mississippi kites use woodlands for nesting. They prefer wooded edges, along major rivers, grasslands, or savanna for foraging. Distribution of populations seem to suggest this bird is better adapted to prairie riparian habitat and savanna than to continuous forest. In the 1970's, 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

Usually breed 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 seen on breeding grounds. Mississippi kites will nest in small colonies of 4-6 nests or singularly. They will reuse or refurbish old nest. Lay 1-2 eggs, and both sexes incubate. Typically 29-31 days of incubation; 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

Distribution 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 southern Great Plains area. They are a long distance migrator to South America. In Carolinas, breeds 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.
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