|The Mississippi Kite is a small gray bird of prey, being lighter on the head and underneath. The tail which is squared and somewhat notched and the outer flight feathers are dark, almost black. Their eyes are dark red accentuated by dark eye rings and a dark curved bill. The sound is a shrill whistle repeated two or three times, but they are usually silent. Immature birds are heavily streaked with brown below and display their faintly banded tails during flight and are sometimes confused with the young of other species such as the Broad-winged Hawk or the Peregrine Falcon. In the adult bird the pointed wings and black tail will allow you to distinguish it from other raptors in flight.
They are graceful and sometimes acrobatic in flight with their pointed wings and displaying their white inner flight feathers. They enjoy the hot southern summers and feed high overhead, rather than perching to eat their prey. They sometimes soar so high that they disappear from sight, and then dive at amazing speeds performing somersaults and other acrobatics.
The breeding habitat is the open woodlands, brushy areas and streamside thickets over the eastern two thirds of the southern part of the United States. While most raptors have decreased in numbers over the last several decades, the Mississippi Kite has benefited from the fragmentation of the forest and has recently expanded its range being seen as far north as southern New England in the spring. During winter this Kite will migrate to the tropics and as far south as Paraguay. The Mississippi Kite is a highly social bird roosting together at night they are often seen in flocks and usually nest in loose colonies. The will nest in urban areas where suitable habitat is available. Attacks on humans by dive-bombing Kites in urban areas near their nesting sites have earned this bird a reputation of being aggressive and thus are sometimes unwelcome guests and on occasion must be removed from the area.
There is little courtship activity as these birds are already paired when they arrive at their breeding grounds. The clutch consists of 2 or 3 white or faintly bluish eggs placed in a bulky flat nest constructed mostly of sticks and twigs and lined with green leaves and Spanish Moss. The nest is placed high in a small fork of a tree where possible, but sometimes on horizontal branches and lower when necessary. They often nest near bees or wasps as these insects may ward off botflies that feed upon their young. Nest building usually occurs around mid-May. The eggs are incubated by both parents and hatch in about 1 month. They leave the nest about 35 days later and are fed and cared for by both parents during that time. Failures at the nest are most often due to predation, by snakes, fox squirrels, raccoons and sometimes by Crows and Great Horned Owls.
While large insects such as grasshoppers and dragonflies make the bulk of the diet, they will also take small snakes or frogs occasionally. They have been know to take bats and lizards in some areas. Sometimes they will follow herds of animals and hawk the insects that are flushed from cover as the herd moves, however they usually hunt within a quarter of a mile of their nest.
Length: 14 to 15 inches.