Trees are for the Birds! Mississippi Kites are on the Move
September 7, 2020
While our arborists are out in the field inspecting trees, they often get a bird’s eye view of urban wildlife. Trees are such an important habitat for critters of all kinds; observing the insects and vertebrates that call them home is part of our job. In this particular situation, one of our arborists, Getth Nelson, noticed more Mississippi Kites than seemed seasonally normal.
Arborist, Getth Nelson:
“I visit 8-10 homes every day. I’m very keen on birds as is common with our line of work. This year, I’ve witnessed a spike in the population of Mississippi kites. And it’s all over the metroplex and beyond. This bird has always intrigued me; and until this year I always considered a sighting a treat. They’re everywhere always in groups of 2-4 circling in search of prey. They hunt in packs and are very social birds. To see them in trees isn’t uncommon, but the numbers I’ve seen are highly unusual.”
About the Raptor
Mississippi Kites are a small raptor that stands 14-inches tall with a widespan of 30-inches. The adult birds are all gray with black tail feathers. The tell-tale feature are their dark red eyes. They are known for how smoothly they fly and their aerial acrobatics.
You will often find Mississippi Kites congregating in groups as they are very social birds. It is common to notice them gathering in the late summer to roost.
Mississippi Kites are birds on the move. They winter in South America, but they travel to their nesting sites in Arizona, southeastern Colorado, southern Kansas, southern Missouri and the rest of the southeastern states. Breeding sites in Texas include north-central and the northwestern third of Texas.
Mississippi Kites feed mostly on large insects such as grasshoppers, dragonflies, beetles, and cicadas. These ravenous raptors will also eat bats, lizards, and mice. It’s interesting to note that when cicada populations are high, Mississippi Kites populations also appear to be higher – as it’s one of their preferred food sources.
Mississippi Kites have been designated by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) as one of 1300 species that are a Species of Greatest Conservation Need in Texas – meaning their populations are considered vulnerable.
Mississippi Kite populations in North Texas
When Getth noticed an increase in local Mississippi Kite populations, he turned to the popular citizen scientist site iNaturalist to see if others were noticing this as well. As it turns out, chatter has increased about the birds in the past few years, possibly suggesting a population increase. Getth further inquired with Laura M. Miller, Country Extension Agent in Tarrant County and Rachel Ricter, Urban Wildlife Biologist in DFW with TPWD for their thoughts on the subject.
“The data from iNaturalist is not proof that the Mississippi Kite population has increased because it is not a formal population estimate. What it means is that citizen scientists have observed more of them recently. This could be a result of factors that have nothing to do with the Mississippi Kite population. For example, there might be more people out looking for birds because of the pandemic or there could just be a general increase in the number of people using iNaturalist compared to previous years. It’s also important to remember that wildlife populations sometimes make geographic shifts due to habitat conditions or resource abundance. This might make it seem like the species has increased or decreased in abundance, even when the actual numbers haven’t changed.”
So, while the data isn’t conclusive as to whether actual populations are increasing in North Texas, we could surmise that Mississippi Kite are being seen more frequently in the region; either due to habitat conditions or increased food presence (cicadas) in the area.
Either way, we’re always happy to see more healthy populations of wildlife in our urban environments. Keep your eye out for these beautiful birds!
Posted: September 7, 2020