A Mississippi Kite

About six o’clock yesterday evening, we were sitting on the back deck, having a drink and listening to the pik-a-tuk calls of a pair of Summer Tanagers in the trees around the edge of the woods, enjoying a brief spell of cooler weather. The female Tanager paused on the branch of a pine, a deep, mellow yellow all over, an elusive color, saffron with dusky green shadows. All the trees were tossing and bending in a strong wind, and a pale blue sky overhead, traced with white cirrus clouds, looked deceptively calm. A pair of Great Crested Flycatchers whreeped and chortled and hunted from the branches close around us.

Like a shooting star, a falcon-like bird streaked high across the eastern sky, flashing dark and light, then turned and dove or stooped breathtakingly fast toward the ground, pulled up, and disappeared from sight for a few seconds. Then it returned, lower and slower, and sailed directly over us as we stood up looking for it – a dark, sleek bird with long slender wings, a wedge-shaped tail and a round white head. A Mississippi Kite. It circled over us, gaining altitude in the gusty wind again, and slid out of sight to the west.

It seemed very early in the season to see a Mississippi Kite here, and sometimes we don’t see them at all, so this was a lucky sighting. We just happened to be out at the right time, and happened to be looking up in the right direction.

Mississippi Kites are falcon-like raptors known for their graceful, often acrobatic flight. In some areas of the central plains they are fairly common, sometimes nesting in colonies. They also nest in the southeastern coastal plain. Here we’re lucky to see a few each summer. They capture insect prey in flight, and sometimes small birds.

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