At a Glance
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.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Hawk-like Birds, Hawks and Eagles
Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Forests and Woodlands, Lakes, Ponds, and Rivers, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets, Urban and Suburban Habitats
California, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas
Direct Flight, Hovering, Soaring
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
A long-distance migrant, wintering in southern South America. Migrates in flocks; sometimes seen in very large concentrations in Texas and Mexico.
12-14" (30-36 cm). W. 3' (91 cm). Mostly gray, with paler head, black tail. Whitish patch on upperside of inner wing may be conspicuous as bird maneuvers in flight. Juvenile mostly brown and streaky, with pale bars on tail. Any age might suggest Peregrine Falcon, but flight behavior is different.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Robin
Black, Brown, Gray, Red, White, Yellow
Long, Narrow, Rounded, Tapered
Long, Notched, Rounded, Square-tipped
Songs and Calls
2 or 3 high clear whistles, seldom heard.
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.
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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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Mississippi Kite. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Mississippi Kite
Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.