The Mississippi kite, belonging to genus Ictiniam, is a small bird of prey. They are known for their elegant flight, especially their ability to float in the air. This species can often be seen hovering around in the group.
Species: I. mississippiensis
The scientific name for the Mississippi kite is Ictinia mississippiensis.
Adult males tend to be 34 – 36 centimetres in length, weighing approximately 214 to 304 grams. Adult females tend to be 34 to 37 centimetres in length, weighing around 270 to 388 grams.
The wingspan of an adult specimen can be 75 – 84 centimetres. The color of their plumage is predominantly grey. Their outer wings and tail feathers are dark grey, while inner wings and head are light greys. The head and the neck of females tend to be more vibrant compared to males. Their eyes are red with black shade around it. Their wings are pointed and tapered. The color of their feet is primarily yellow with the red shade. The appearance of the juveniles is different from adult specimens. Their neck and head are either buff or white in color. The underparts of their body are streaked with black and white. The wings and upper body is light black. The underpart of their tail carries three thin stripes.
These species prefer to live in bottomland forests with various types of hardwood trees.
They can also be seen in agricultural fields, oak savannas, woodlands, and pastures.
They breed in southern Great Plains and Arizona, south to the Gulf coast, and east to North Carolina and South Carolina.
They also inhabit Oklahoma, Louisiana, Texas, and North England. In the past decade, their population has gone up. Their migration takes them to south Texas, south Florida and south America.
Mississippi kites are social birds. They forage, migrate and roost in groups. They can often be seen nesting in loose colonies. They are great fliers. They sail in the air in groups, mostly in a straight line. Like other raptors, they do not have circling behaviour. They are skilful in changing elevations quickly. They can eat while on the flight using their feet to hold on to the prey.
They breed once in a year, mostly between May to July. Individuals start mating at the age of two. This kite species is monogamous. They form pairs after arriving at breeding grounds, or sometimes, before arriving at breeding grounds. Courtship displays do not always take place. However, males defend the females from another male intruder during mating season.
Within seven days after reaching breeding grounds, they either make a new nest or refurbish an old one. A nest is generally made in the form of a tree, about 3 to 30 meters above the ground. The nest tends to be small and flat, covered with Spanish moss. Female generally lay two eggs (sometimes 1 or 3). Incubating begins as soon as first eggs are laid. Both male and female take part in the incubation process that lasts for around 30 days. The chicks are altricial, and they have to be taken care of by the breeding pair consistently for at least 4 – 6 days. Both male and female bring foods to the chick for 40 to 50 days. Sometime after that, they are able to take their first flight. Only half of the breeding pairs successfully raise their chicks as they fell victim to bad weather, or preyed upon by other birds of prey.
They mostly feed on insects (that they are able to capture while in flight). They also feed on grasshoppers, cicada, small vertebrates, reptiles, small mammals, amphibians and birds.
The lifespan of this species is around 8 years in the wild.
Mississippi kites have two whistle-like calls. One sounds like ‘phee-ti-ti’, while the other one sounds like ‘phee phew.’
Predators of the Mississippi kite includes fox and raccoons. Eggs and chicks are vulnerable to common grackles, snakes, blue jays, American crows, greater roadrunners, hawks and great horned owls.
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has kept this species in the ‘Least Concern’ category.
At times, a one-year-old kite can be seen around a breeding pair – helping them in defending the nest, and even taking part in incubation and taking care of the young ones. Some pairs accept the help, while some don’t.
It had often been noted that Mississippi Kites make their nest near a wasp nest, or a place surrounded with bees. It is believed that this helps in saving their chicks against climbing predators.
Small birds, such as Blue Jays, House Sparrows, and Northern Mockingbirds can be seen nesting near a kite nest, mostly coexisting peacefully.
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