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
  • adult male
  • adult female
  • juvenile
  • adult male
  • immature female (1st yr)
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.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

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.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Hawks and Eagles Hawk-like Birds

Mississippi Kite

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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