Mississippi Kites

On a hot and humid morning, two graceful, slender, long-winged raptors circled over a cul de sac in the neighborhood next to ours. At first glance, they looked black, but a closer look showed pearl-gray plumage with white heads and dark-gray wings with white edges – Mississippi Kites. I’ve seen them here off and on all summer, but this is the first time this year I’ve enjoyed such a good view and watched them in flight. As they flew, they called in high, whistled notes, pee-tooo.

Their legs and feet were extended as they flew, and they were catching insects in the air, and leaning over to eat them in flight. As they hunted, they flew with acrobatic grace, with sudden turns and sharp dives, and smooth soaring on narrow, outstretched wings, looking lighter than air. Their tails constantly shifted with small adjustments. Once, when one circled down lower, just over the rooftops, I could see the black patch over its eye on a white face and head. 

A Mississippi Kite is a medium-size raptor, with narrow, pointed wings. It’s known for its graceful, buoyant flight. Over the past several years, they have become more common here around our neighborhood and the surrounding area, and I’ve often watched them from this same cul de sac – sometimes perched in a line of trees along the edge of a stretch of woods that extends behind the houses here. This summer for the first time, I’ve also been hearing the pee-tooo calls around our own back yard, and now and then I’ve seen one circling low, just over the treetops. 

We’re extremely lucky to have these elegant birds spending the summer here. They have been extending their breeding range in the U.S. over the past several decades. They appear to adapt well to living urban and suburban areas. They breed in scattered areas of the southern and central U.S., using a variety of different habitats in different regions, and they migrate in large flocks to South America for the winter. 

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