Photo: Greg W. Lasley/Vireo

Mississippi Kite

Ictinia mississippiensis

One of our most graceful fliers, this kite glides, circles, and swoops in pursuit of large flying insects. Despite the name, it is most common on the southern Great Plains. During recent decades, the planting of trees in shelterbelts and towns has made it possible for this bird to nest in many areas where it was formerly scarce; many towns on the southern plains now have their own nesting colonies of Mississippi Kites.
Conservation status Since about 1950, populations in some areas (such as southern Great Plains) have greatly increased, and range has extended into parts of the southwest where this kite was previously absent.
Family Hawks and Eagles
Habitat Wooded streams; groves, shelterbelts. For nesting, requires trees (preferably tall) next to open country. In southeast, found mostly in groves of trees along rivers or swamps where surrounding country is more open. On plains and in southwest, nests in tall trees along rivers, in towns, or in groves or shelterbelts on prairie.
One of our most graceful fliers, this kite glides, circles, and swoops in pursuit of large flying insects. Despite the name, it is most common on the southern Great Plains. During recent decades, the planting of trees in shelterbelts and towns has made it possible for this bird to nest in many areas where it was formerly scarce; many towns on the southern plains now have their own nesting colonies of Mississippi Kites.
Photo Gallery
Feeding Behavior

Catches many large flying insects high in the air in graceful maneuvers, often then holding these in one foot and eating them while soaring. Also skims low to catch prey on or near the ground. Sometimes flies out from a perch to catch passing insects. Pursues bats and flying birds (such as swallows and swifts) in the air. Sometimes catches insects that have been flushed from the grass by herds of grazing animals or by fire. Also scavenges road-killed animals at times (this may account for occasional large rodents or turtles in diet).


Eggs

1-2. White. Incubation is by both parents, 29-31 days. Young: Both parents care for the young, brooding them in cool weather and shading them at mid-day. Both parents bring food for young. At first, may feed young mostly insects, regurgitated into nest; may bring larger prey later. Young may climb out of nest onto nearby branches at age about 4 weeks, may make first flights at about 5 weeks. Adults continue to feed them for at least 8 weeks after hatching.


Young

Both parents care for the young, brooding them in cool weather and shading them at mid-day. Both parents bring food for young. At first, may feed young mostly insects, regurgitated into nest; may bring larger prey later. Young may climb out of nest onto nearby branches at age about 4 weeks, may make first flights at about 5 weeks. Adults continue to feed them for at least 8 weeks after hatching.

Diet

Mostly large insects. Major items in diet include cicadas, grasshoppers, katydids, beetles, and dragonflies; also eats moths, bees, and other insects, mainly large ones. In addition, eats lesser numbers of frogs, toads, snakes, bats, rodents, small birds, turtles.


Nesting

Usually nests in loose colonies. Courtship behavior not well known, may involve aerial acrobatics, and posturing while perched. Nest site is in tree, usually near edge of woodlot, usually 20-35' above ground; can be up to 140' high. In oaks or mesquites on plains, may be as low as 6'. Nest (built by both sexes) is rather flimsy platform of dead twigs, lined with green leaves. Adults continue to add greenery to nest during season.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Migration

A long-distance migrant, wintering in southern South America. Migrates in flocks; sometimes seen in very large concentrations in Texas and Mexico.

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Migration

A long-distance migrant, wintering in southern South America. Migrates in flocks; sometimes seen in very large concentrations in Texas and Mexico.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
2 or 3 high clear whistles, seldom heard.