Mississippi Kite

Late this morning, a Mississippi Kite – a dark and streamlined raptor with long, slender, pointed wings and a rather long, flared tail – soared over our neighborhood. I saw it for only a few minutes, circling slowly in a watery blue sky crowded with damp, loose white clouds. A heavy early morning fog had dissipated, but a haze still hung in the air.

The Kite looked uniformly dark all over, too far away and too close to the sun for me to see its true gray color or the pale, rounded head or white trailing edges on the wings of a male. One of its wings looked ragged, maybe missing a feather or two. It circled several times without climbing higher, gliding slowly, wings outstretched, then flew upwards, tucked its wings and plummeted toward the trees in the east very fast, and disappeared from my view.

It was the first Mississippi Kite I’ve seen this year, and the first one I’ve seen in our neighborhood since three summers ago, when we saw one or two almost every day for several weeks. Several have been reported along the Oconee River recently not too many miles from here.

Mississippi Kites spend winters in South America, and summers in the central and southern Great Plains, a few areas in the Southwest, and parts of the Southeast. In this part of Georgia, we’re on the edge of their range, and we’re not always lucky enough to see them. Sometimes when we do, there will be several Kites soaring, hunting or roosting together.

Watching Mississippi Kites on a steamy summer afternoon, soaring against a background of towering orange and white cumulous clouds, or swooping low over a field to catch grasshoppers, beetles or cicadas on the wing – beautiful to watch in the air, artistic, buoyant flyers – reminds me that a hot, humid, sticky Georgia summer day can have its good side.

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