A newly hatched Mississippi Kite is a fearsome sight, despite its poufy white down. The beak leaves absolutely no doubt that this bird is a raptor. Which is a little odd since it grows up to prefer grasshoppers and cicada caught on the wing to mice and rats or rabbits. Only the smallest raptors, such as Screech Owls prefer insects and amphibians to mice and rats. The Kite doesn’t really fit the bill. The Mississippi Kite is a small to medium raptor that is about the size of a Peregrine Falcon. However, the falcon can weigh as much as three times as much.
The eating habits aren’t the only slightly odd habit. Mississippi Kites migrate long distances to and from central South America in a groups of 20 – 30 individuals. They also nest near each other as a group. Mississippi Kite arrive at the nesting site as mated pairs. Many raptors don’t migrate and those that do usually don’t do so as a flock.
The Mississippi Kite isn’t a well known raptor. People that see them often mistake them for other birds because the Kite’s gray coloring is so different from other more well known raptors. The head and back are a beautiful pearl gray which darkens along the sides and out the wings. The wings are unusually long (up to three feet) and narrow. The undersides of the wings are a lighter gray. The tail is long and a very dark gray or black. Juveniles have dark brown mottling or stripes and dark brown banding on the tail. This group of juveniles look much like more “traditional” raptors because of their brown markings. They have been released from the large flight cage, but are returning for back-up food. While hunting is instinctual, it takes time to become good at it. So, the Wildlife Center of Texas release sites always provide back-up food until the released birds no longer return.
This baby Kite is a very late baby. Most nesting is done in the early spring so the offspring have fledged and are ready to migrate to South America early in September. There are several explanations for this late baby. There are reports of isolated populations that don’t migrate, so a late baby wouldn’t be as big of an issue. The first clutch could have been lost and the pair bred a second time. The final explanation is that the female wasn’t quite old enough for breeding and because of this inexperience allowed a late clutch to be born. Mississippi Kite have a lower clutch survival rate than other raptors. Part of the lower survival rate is that the Kite constructs a flimsy nest which is usually a rehabilitated squirrel nest. The other issue is that Great Horned Owls think Kite babies taste really good. Interesting, urban Kites have a higher survival rate than rural cousins.