Photographed in Brazos Bend State Park
One day I watched a pair of MS Kites dive into hundreds of dragonflies, snatch one, then sail back up where it would devour the dragonfly on the wing, then dive back down and snatch another. It was nature's showcase and all I had was an iPhone!
The Mississippi Kite makes a streamlined silhouette as it careens through the sky on the hunt for small prey, or dive-bombs intruders that come too close to its nest tree. These sleek, pearly gray raptors often hunt together and nest colonially in stands of trees, from windbreaks on southern prairies to old-growth bottomlands in the Southeast (and even on city parks and golf courses). After rearing their chicks they fly all the way to central South America for the winter.
Mississippi Kites in the Southeast lead a different life from kites in prairie states to the west. Western birds usually nest colonially in small woodlands on the prairie, where they can be locally abundant. Eastern birds are less abundant, breed in old-growth forest, and are less likely to nest in colonies.
Mississippi Kites have increased in the western part of their range thanks to recent changes in the landscape, such as shelterbelts planted by farmers and ranchers. When they nest in city parks and golf courses it can be problematic since the kites tend to dive-bomb people who come too close to their nests.
Nestlings preen each other, arrange nesting material together, and show very little aggression toward their siblings—unusual traits for raptor chicks. At 25-30 days of age they start moving from the nest to nearby tree limbs and back, and they leap into flight several days later.
The kite’s nest may be located next to (or even contain) a wasp nest, which probably helps protect the chicks against climbing predators. Smaller bird species—such as Northern Mockingbirds, Blue Jays, and House Sparrows—may nest near or on kite nests, usually coexisting peacefully with the kites.
A 1-year-old kite will often hang around the nest of a breeding pair and may help with defending the nest, incubating the eggs, or even brooding the chicks. The pair usually accepts the help, but sometimes chases the yearling away.