The Latin name of the Mississippi kite, Ictinia mississippiensis, means kite of the Mississippi River, but are these raptors limited to the areas around the ‘Old Man River’ or can Mississippi kites be seen throughout the U.S.?
Read on to find out where Mississippi kites are most common, and whether they remain in the same territories all year round.
Mississippi kites are small, agile raptors that breed in the Great Plains states of central and south and are frequently seen along the Mississippi River. Migration passage takes them across Central America, to South America, where they spend winter months.
Regular vagrant visitors are reported in other parts of North America, and it’s not unheard of for individual Mississippi kites, especially immature birds, to turn up in Virginia, North Carolina and even as far north as New Hampshire.
To learn more about where you’d stand the best chances of spotting a Mississippi kite and what kind of landscapes they nest and hunt in, then please do carry on reading.
The southern Great Plains is considered a stronghold for Mississippi Kites
Mississippi kites are a migratory species, breeding in the central and southern U.S., mainly concentrated along the Mississippi River and Great Plains. In fall, they fly south to spend winters in South America, ultimately settling in Brazil and Argentina. Their migration passage takes them across the southern United States, Mexico and Central America.
The southern Great Plains region is considered to be a ‘stronghold’ for Mississippi kites, where they arrive to breed in spring, and are relatively widespread and abundant. Regions bordering the Mississippi River are home to sizable breeding populations, with colonial nests in both woodlands and urban areas in the western part of the range.
Continue reading for what states Mississippi Kites can be found in.
Mississippi Kites breed in central and southern parts of the US
Breeding grounds of Mississippi kites are concentrated and well established in northern Texas, Oklahoma, southern Kansas, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina and northern Florida.
Pairs also breed regularly in smaller numbers in other southern and central states, including Nebraska, Arizona, Indiana, Missouri, Iowa and Colorado.
In fall, Mississippi kites migrate south, and can be seen temporarily in passage in larger numbers in southern Texas and western Louisiana.
Mississippi kites are not established or regular visitors to Canada. Rare sightings of what are thought to have been vagrant individuals have been occasionally noted, with a pair reported to have bred for the first time in 2014, in Manitoba.
Mississippi Kites are extremely rare visitors to Canada
In the U.S., Mississippi kites are most commonly sighted across the southeast of the country, with the southern prairies of Texas and Oklahoma home to the highest concentrations of breeding populations each summer.
In 2006, a record-breaking flock of an estimated 10,000 Mississippi kites was recorded on wintering grounds at Fuerte Esperanza, Argentina.
The natural habitat of Mississippi kites includes woodlands, swamplands and open pastures within the Great Plains region. In eastern parts of the range, denser areas of unbroken forest are preferred by nesting pairs.
Further west, breeding in urban and suburban landscapes has become increasingly widespread since the 1960s.
Mississippi Kite perched high up in a tree in the woods
After the species witnessed a decline in the 1990s, things have since improved for Mississippi kite populations, and they are now experiencing an increase in numbers.
The global population of Mississippi kites was estimated at 700,000 in 2019, all of which breed in North America, so at the right time of year, and in the right location, a sighting would not be classed as particularly uncommon.
Outside of their summer range, it would be more unusual to spot a Mississippi kite, and in winter, it would be extremely rare indeed to see one anywhere in the United States.
Look to the skies above the Great Plains in spring and summer to maximize your chances of spotting a Mississippi kite. The southern prairies and riverside landscapes along the Mississippi are popular hunting and nesting spots.
There are plenty of reliable tips for sightings of flocks at Skeen’s Farm, in Glenville, Georgia.
Mississippi Kite soaring through the sky
Mississippi kites are diurnal birds and hunt during daylight hours. They are particularly active in windy weather, taking advantage of the thermal currents to glide and soar through the skies. In early evening, by around 18.00 they return to their colonial roosts or nest sites.
Mississippi kites are classified as long-distance and complete migrants, with all birds embarking on lengthy migration flights twice each year from their breeding territories in North America to their wintering grounds in South America in fall, and the reverse journey in early spring.
Mississippi Kites are long-distance migrants
Large numbers of overwintering Mississippi kites arrive in South America each winter, spending November to March south of Bolivia. Southern Brazil and as far south as Argentina are the most common destinations for migrating Mississippi kites, which arrive from late October onwards and have departed for breeding grounds by the following March.
Mississippi kites survive winter by flying south from their summer breeding grounds, across Mexico and Central America to spend winters in South America, settling in Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay.
Winters in North America cannot guarantee sufficient food resources, hence the need for a lengthy migration south.
Mississippi Kite flying low over the grassland
Summer breeding grounds of Mississippi kites are found across the southern and central U.S., with urban and suburban locations increasingly common across the western part of their range. In the eastern areas, woodlands, open pastures and swamplands offer ideal habitats for breeding and foraging opportunities.
Migration begins in late summer to early fall, with groups of Mississippi kites flying together in passage over the southern U.S, across Mexico and Central America, deep into South America.
It’s not uncommon for Mississippi kites to take many stopovers on their migration journey, and late summer sightings in southern Texas are commonly reported.
Mississippi kites are social birds, with groups of up to 20 to 30 birds roosting and foraging together once the breeding season ends. Colonial nests are not uncommon with several pairs setting up home within close proximity of each other and hunting on a shared patch.
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