Mississippi Kites

Earth Day here has been a cool, cloudy, damp spring day of gray light and glassy-green leaves all around. It began before dawn with a good hard rain. After the rain, an Eastern Phoebe sang. Then a Scarlet Tanager, a Summer Tanager, a Red-eyed Vireo, and a gathering cascade of birdsong.

By late in the morning things seemed rather quiet when I first went out, but by the end of an hour-long walk, I had been surprised to see two Mississippi Kites soaring, a Blue Grosbeak perched in a chinaberry tree, and to hear the sharp WHEET-sit call of our first Acadian Flycatcher of the season.

The Mississippi Kites were the most unexpected sight because it’s early in the season to find them here. I think of them as summer birds. But there they were – against a chilly background of gray clouds, two falcon-like raptors circling, flying close together and fairly low. Their sleek, streamlined shapes are so distinctive – long, slender, pointed wings, long tails and round heads. They drifted with wings outspread, tails fanned, riding the air like gray paper cutouts of bird shapes. After five or six minutes in view, they sailed away slowly toward the south.

Mississippi Kites spend winters in South America, and breed across the central and southern U.S. Graceful, acrobatic flyers, they catch and eat insects in flight, and can be a joy to watch. Though I’ve never seen more than five or six together at one time over our own neighborhood, they commonly forage in flocks of two dozen or more. During summers here, they’re more often found in rural areas, hunting over fence-rows, farm fields and pastures. Over the past few years, though, I’ve also seen reports of them in other wooded suburban areas.

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