Mississippi Kite

Mid-morning on this warm, rather quiet summer day, a dark, slender phantom of a bird, with flashes of ghost-white in its wings flew low out of trees on one side of a neighborhood road, and disappeared into trees behind houses on the other side. I stopped to watch, and after only a few moments, it flew again, emerging from one spot in the trees and flying to another – and then much deeper into the woods. Though it was only a very brief look, it was enough to see the distinctive near-white head and dark gray color and shape of a Mississippi Kite. 

I wasn’t expecting to see a Mississippi Kite here, in the middle of a neighborhood of neat green lawns and manicured landscapes, where mockingbirds, cardinals and towhees are more common. An elegant raptor known for its graceful, acrobatic flight over sunny fields and pastures, the kite felt like a very exotic visitor down here in the shadows of these suburban oaks and pines. And yet, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen one here this summer. 

Mississippi Kites are still relatively uncommon in this part of Georgia, though over the past few years they seem to be reported more often, and in our own neighborhood, I’ve been seeing one or two fairly often this summer. I can’t say for sure that a pair is nesting here, but I see them most often around one particular wooded area near a creek, sometimes perched in a tree and sometimes in flight. They are only here in the summer months, and spend winters in central South America. 

In some regions of North America, like the southern Great Plains, Mississippi Kites are much more common and even abundant. They frequently nest in large colonies and often in urban areas. East of the Mississippi, where they are found in several southern states, including Georgia, they are much less abundant, and nest most often in old-growth forest. 

A Mississippi Kite is a slender raptor with long pointed wings and a long, square-tipped tail. It is pale gray below and darker gray above, with a very pale head that looks almost white, and white in part of the dark-gray wings. The wingtips and tail are black. When it’s soaring high, it often appears all dark, even black, but when it’s low enough the gray color and pattern becomes apparent, and the head glows white in the sun.

Known for their acrobatic, buoyant flight, Mississippi Kites are a joy to watch as they circle, dive, turn, and swoop, catching large flying insects in their talons and often eating them as they fly. 

Leave a Reply