Do you want to see more Mississippi Kites in your backyard?
Attracting these remarkable raptors, known for their grace and agility in the sky, comes down to two important things: hunting and nesting opportunities.
Here’s how to attract Mississippi Kites:
- Create an insect-rich environment, particularly in dragonflies, grasshoppers, and cicadas.
- Plant wild flowers and trees that attract insects and provide nesting opportunities
- Whatever you do, stay away from pesticides and insecticides that will reduce the population of the Mississippi Kite’s favorite food sources.
What Do You Feed a Mississippi Kite?
If you’re asking this question, you’re on the right track.
Like many birds, the way to a Mississippi Kite’s heart is through its stomach.
But you can’t simply put out food at the bird feeder for Mississippi Kites as you can with other birds. Instead, you must build an environment suitable for hunting the things they like to eat.
Let’s start with discussing their diet and preferred prey.
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The Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippiensis) is a small bird of prey that relies on a diverse diet to thrive in its habitat. These graceful birds often seem to float in the air as they efficiently catch their prey.
Mississippi kites primarily feed on flying insects. Some of their most common prey items include:
However, the diet of a Mississippi Kite is not limited to insects. They are opportunistic and readily adapt to the environment they inhabit.
Though they prefer insects first and foremost, their prey list also includes several small vertebrates such as:
- Small birds
Needless to say, Mississippi Kites are highly adaptive hunters that tend to take advantage of the available resources.
Now that you understand what they eat, let’s talk about how to attract Mississippi Kites’ prey to your yard to make it more tempting for these raptors.
How to Attract Mississippi Kites’ Prey
You can encourage Mississippi Kites to become frequent flyers in your backyard by:
- Creating an environment with plenty of plants that attract insects in particular.
- Bear in mind that Mississippi Kites especially like large insects like dragonflies, grasshoppers, and cicadas. So, creating a space that’s inviting for these bugs (and small animals) is your best bet.
- This could include having areas of standing water like natural or human-made ponds for mosquitoes (which dragonflies eat), frogs, and turtles; areas of taller grass for grasshoppers and snakes; rocks or rock walls with gaps for garter snakes and small critters to hide in; and various plants and flowers in your garden to cultivate a thriving insect community.
- Avoid the use of insecticides. These will hurt your chances to attract Mississippi Kites, as you’re deterring their main source of food.
What Plants Can I Grow to Attract Mississippi Kites?
- As discussed, growing plants that attract insects, specifically the types of insects that Mississippi kites feed on, can help bring these birds to your area.
- Consider planting native trees and shrubs, such as willow, cottonwood, and oak, which can support a diverse insect population.
- Additionally, incorporating tall grasses or wildflowers into your landscaping can provide a natural habitat for insects, making the area more attractive to Mississippi kites.
Creating a Habitat for Mississippi Kite Nesting
Mississippi kites prefer to nest in trees, particularly in locations with open spaces and mature trees.
- To create a suitable nesting habitat, plant trees like oaks, cottonwoods, and sycamores.
- Maintain a mix of mature trees and younger trees to provide various nesting options.
- Also, make sure to provide open spaces around the trees, as these birds prefer a clear view of the surrounding area and easy access to their nest.
- Keep pets like dogs and cats away from nesting sites, as they can be a disturbance to the birds.
Mississippi Kite Physical Characteristics
Size and Shape
- Mississippi Kites are medium-sized raptors with a streamlined silhouette, making them agile and swift in the sky.
- They have a body length that ranges from 30 to 37 cm (12 to 14.5 inches), and their wingspan can measure up to 91 cm (36 inches) across.
- They have a weight that typically falls between 214 and 388 grams (7.5 to 13.7 ounces), making them lighter and more maneuverable compared to other birds of prey.
- Mississippi Kites have a pearly gray coloration, which adds to their sleek overall appearance. Their gray plumage can vary from light to dark shades of gray, sometimes with subtle touches of brown.
- They possess distinctive red eyes, which can serve as a unique identifying feature.
- The tail of a Mississippi Kite is typically gray with black banding.
- Additionally, they have black feathers on the tips of their wings, which create a striking contrast against the lighter gray plumage.
Habitat and Distribution
Mississippi Kites are known for their streamlined silhouettes and skilled hunting techniques. They are often found throughout the Great Plains region, with a natural habitat that includes woodlands, swamplands, and open pastures 1.
These elegant birds of prey have an extensive geographic distribution, from the southeastern United States to South America2.
Nesting pairs of Mississippi Kites typically prefer denser areas of unbroken forests in the east, whereas further west, their nesting has become increasingly common in urban and suburban landscapes since the 1960s1.
In fact, many towns across Oklahoma, Texas, and other southern plains now support their own nesting colonies of these raptors3.
An important aspect of their habitat is the presence of stands of trees, which provide shelter and a suitable nesting environment. This is why they are often found in areas like windbreaks, shelterbelts, city parks, and golf courses2 4. These human-made landscapes have allowed the Mississippi Kite to colonize new regions and thrive in areas that were once scarce for them.
Some of the key features that make these habitats attractive to Mississippi Kites include:
- A mix of tree species that provide optimal nesting locations
- Ample food sources, such as small prey like insects and rodents
- A balance of open spaces and wooded areas for hunting and nesting5
By providing suitable habitats for Mississippi Kites, urban areas and human-made landscapes have positively contributed to their population growth and expansion. The adaptability of these raptors showcases their ability to survive and flourish in an ever-changing world1.
When it comes to hunting, the Mississippi Kite has developed some impressive techniques to catch its prey. Here are a few ways this bird displays its acumen:
- Aerial Hunting: Mississippi Kites are known for their graceful aerial maneuvers. They often catch large flying insects high in the air, hold them in one foot, and eat while soaring (source).
- Low Skimming: In addition to aerial hunting, they also skim close to the ground to snatch their prey on or near the surface.
- Perch Hunting: Sometimes, the Mississippi Kite hunts from a perch, flying out to catch passing insects.
- Pursuing Birds and Bats: The agility of Mississippi Kites enables them to pursue other flying animals, such as swallows, swifts, and even bats.
By understanding the diverse diet and various foraging techniques of the Mississippi Kite, one can begin to create a habitat that is favorable to these beautiful and efficient hunters.
Mississippi Kite Nesting and Breeding
- Mississippi Kites are known to build their nests in trees, often choosing sheltered spots or towns that have plenty of vegetation.
- Over the years, these birds have benefited from humans planting trees in these areas, sometimes even resulting in the formation of nesting colonies in many towns across the southern plains1.
- When building their nests, these kites look for sturdy branches and gather materials like twigs, leaves, and bits of bark to create their safe haven.
Eggs and Incubation
- Once the nest is constructed, the female Mississippi Kite lays a clutch of eggs, typically ranging between one to three2.
- These eggs are usually white or pale blueish-green with brown markings.
- Both the male and female share the responsibility of incubating the eggs. This process usually takes around 30-35 days, during which the eggs must be kept warm and protected from predators3.
After the chicks hatch, both parents play an active role in taking care of the juveniles. The parent’s duties include:
- Defending the nest and their young from any potential threats or predators.
- Bringing food for the chicks, which primarily consists of insects caught in mid-air, as well as small reptiles and amphibians4.
- Assisting the young in learning how to fly and hunt for their own food.
The juveniles tend to leave the nest after about five to six weeks. Though they may be young, they already display impressive flying skills and gradually develop their hunting abilities5.
Migration Patterns of Mississippi Kites
The Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippiensis) is a long-distance migratory bird. These graceful fliers travel from the United States to South America during fall, mainly between August and September1.
The kite’s return journey to the U.S. occurs mainly from April to May, with spring overshoots reaching the Northeast and Great Lakes region during May and June 2. Their migration is driven by the seasonal availability of their primary food source – large flying insects3.
During the summer breeding season, the Mississippi Kite can be found in the southeastern United States, extending to states like Oklahoma4.
If you make your surroundings more welcoming for these birds during the summer, you can increase the chances of attracting them.
Migratory Bird Treaty Act
Mississippi Kites, as migratory birds, are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 (MBTA) in the United States 5.
This international treaty aims to conserve migratory bird species by regulating hunting, capturing, selling, and killing of migratory birds.
As a bird enthusiast looking to attract Mississippi Kites, adhering to the provisions of the MBTA is important. Keep in mind that it is illegal to disturb their nests, capture, or harm these birds.
Instead, focus on providing a suitable habitat that encourages their presence while respecting their natural life history and legal protections.
Behavior and Classification
The Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippiensis) is a medium-sized raptor known for its notable flight and hunting behaviors, as well as its social interactions and distinct features.
In this section, we will cover these aspects and discuss species identification for these fascinating birds.
Flight and Hunting
- Mississippi Kites are experts at graceful and agile flight, often seen soaring high in the air or skimming low to catch their prey.
- They use their long wings, typically held in a weak, stretched “M” shape, to glide effortlessly through the sky.
- Their primary diet consists of large flying insects, which they capture mid-air and often consume while still flying.
- Additionally, these skilled predators are known to pursue bats, small reptiles, amphibians, and even other birds such as swallows and swifts.
- Mississippi Kites are found in the southern and central states of the United States during the summer months but migrate to South America for the winter season.
- They are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which means it is illegal to move, capture, hunt, or kill these birds or their offspring.
- Although they are relatively common in the Southeast along streams, they are usually found nesting near water sources and not in very dense colonies.
To help you identify this bird, look for the following features:
- Size: Medium-sized with a 3-foot wingspan
- Color: Bluish-gray head and dark gray back, with lighter gray underparts and a long tail.
- Flight Pattern: Soaring or gliding in an “M” shape with narrow, pointed wings
- Hunting Behavior: Captures insects and other prey both high in the air and close to the ground
The Merlin Bird ID app can be a helpful tool in confirming a Mississippi Kite sighting, by comparing size, color, flight patterns, and location information.
Mississippi Kites in Urban Areas
Mississippi Kites are becoming more common in urban environments, successfully adapting to city life by finding suitable nesting and feeding grounds.
Let’s explore two primary areas these elegant birds of prey are attracted to: city parks and golf courses.
City parks provide an excellent habitat for Mississippi Kites, offering an abundance of trees for nesting and plenty of insects for feeding.
These areas also tend to be quieter and less crowded than other parts of the city, allowing these birds to hunt efficiently and raise their young without constant disturbances.
Golf courses offer another viable habitat for Mississippi Kites, as they typically have large areas of manicured lawns and strategically placed trees that promote the presence of insects.
The open areas make it easy for the kites to hunt, while the water hazards often attract a variety of insects and small prey.
Attracting and protecting Mississippi Kites to your golf course involves these steps:
- Limit the use of harmful pesticides and opt for environmentally friendly alternatives.
- Keep golf carts and other vehicles away from nesting sites during breeding season.
- Educate golfers about the beneficial role of Mississippi Kites and how to respectfully coexist with them on the course.
By making golf courses welcoming environments for Mississippi Kites, you’ll be helping to conserve this species while also enjoying their skillful hunting abilities that effectively manage pest populations.
Conservation and Threats
To protect these amazing creatures, it’s crucial for bird enthusiasts and conservationists to understand the threats they face, as well as how to attract them.
- Habitat loss is one of the main challenges facing Mississippi Kites. As human development expands, it encroaches on their nesting and hunting grounds, causing a decline in their population. To help mitigate this problem, consider creating suitable nesting habitats in your area or supporting land preservation organizations that maintain areas for birds like the Mississippi Kite.
- These birds of prey also face threats from hunting, poisoning, and collisions with vehicles. If you are a bird-watcher or a birder, be mindful of their nesting areas and keep your distance to avoid accidentally disturbing or injuring them.
- Migrating Mississippi Kites encounter additional challenges such as extreme weather, exhaustion, starvation, and diseases. When large groups of birds gather in one area, disease can spread rapidly, further endangering their survival. If you come across an injured or sick Mississippi Kite, contact a local wildlife rehabilitation center or a bird conservation organization for guidance on how to help.
Remember that, as a bird enthusiast or someone interested in birding, you have the power to contribute to Mississippi Kite conservation efforts.
By providing and preserving habitats, being mindful of their vulnerabilities, and adopting responsible birding practices, you can help ensure a bright future for these fascinating animals.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I mimic the Mississippi kite call to attract them?
Mimicking the Mississippi kite call can be done using bird call playback devices or apps available in the market.
Ensure to use recordings specific to this species and play the calls at reasonable intervals to avoid stressing the birds or scaring them away.
Do Mississippi Kites eat dragonflies?
They sure do! Mississippi kites prefer dragonflies as some of their main prey.
Which is why creating a backyard environment that’s rich in dragonflies, by first attracting the bugs they eat, is important.
Are there any specific migration habits to consider for attracting Mississippi kites?
Mississippi kites migrate seasonally, generally spending their summers in North America and winters in South America.
They will be more likely to visit your area during the summer months. Keep this in mind and plan your birdwatching or kite-attracting efforts accordingly.
What are the legal considerations when trying to attract Mississippi kites?
Before attempting to attract any bird species, including Mississippi kites, familiarize yourself with local, state, and federal laws to ensure your actions are legal.
Some species may be protected under wildlife protection laws, which could impose restrictions on certain actions or require permits for specific activities.
When in doubt, consult with your local wildlife department or conservation organization for guidance.
- https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/mississippi-kite ↩ ↩2 ↩3 ↩4 ↩5
- https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Mississippi_Kite/lifehistory ↩ ↩2 ↩3 ↩4
- https://www.wildlifedepartment.com/wildlife/field-guide/birds/mississippi-kite ↩ ↩2 ↩3
- https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/mississippi-kite ↩ ↩2 ↩3
- https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Mississippi_Kite/lifehistory ↩ ↩2 ↩3