Saturday, May 21, 2016

Mississippi Kite general info (COBIRDS post)

Happy Friday everyone,

I want to provide some information about Mississippi Kites in El Paso County.

I guess you could say that this bird is my 'spark' bird.  In 2011, I noticed some birds nesting across the street from my house that I'd never seen before.  Lovely, graceful birds and rather vocal - I'd often hear them before seeing them - including the young.  I somehow came across a local birder's blog - I'm not sure but it may have been SeEtta Moss's and sent a message asking for help with bird ID and learned the name of these birds and that they were apparently pretty unusual for El Paso County - possibly breeding in the county for the first time or nearly so.  Having them nesting so close, it was a treat to observe their behavior and watch two birds successfully fledge that year.

They've returned every year since.  They typically arrive the first weekend in May - sometimes the second.  They typically stay until shortly after Labor Day. Last year the some on my street seemed to stay late - until the first day of fall -  I think they had some kind of breeding failure and re-started in early-mid June and that was the probable cause of the delay. Each year they seem to come back with more Kites with them.  I went to the CFO Convention this past weekend and when I got home on Monday the first sound I heard when I opened my car door was Mississippi Kite.   We saw some in during the convention and seeing other people's excitement reminded me of how much I love these birds, how wonderful they are to observe, and how many Colorado birders still do not commonly get to see them.

Sometimes the first year juveniles seem to return with parents and help them, but I don't think this is an absolute.  One egg seems to be more common than two, and it happens fairly often that they are not successful in having the young survive all the way to fall migration. They do face some hazards aside from weather - one year I saw one adult taken by a Golden Eagle down near Adams Open Space - with two or three other Kites chasing the Eagle to try to save their comrade or family member.  They do not seem to be bothered much by people and seem to love suburbia - they tend to perch in the dead scraggly parts of old cottonwoods or elms or nest in little crooks in leafy parts of such trees. 

Their nests do not seem to be very remarkable or well-structured - often from the ground the nest itself is hardly visible.  They are easiest to observe at dawn or dusk - this is when they can often be found perched in the open on one of the dead scrags.  During the day they are more likely to be found loosely circling overhead somewhere, hunting for and eating insects in the air - although they will occasionally eat lizards and small birds, too.  They can perform quick dives with wings folded-in that can look pretty spectacular.  One of the most amazing sights is one I have so far observed primarily in late August - large groups (teens to 30s so far) of Kites at higher-than-typical altitudes overhead - more like swift height - apparently engaging in mass-feeding but perhaps sending a message that the babies are about to fledge and it is about time for all of us to head back to South America - i.e. hurry up, let's go!  But that could be my imagination. :)  They do have tendency toward colonies - they like to hang out and breed in the same general vicinity with one another.  So if you see one, chances are others are around, especially if they've been in the area for multiple years.

In the Security/Widefield Fountain areas I regularly see Kites around Watson Junior High, Widefield High School/Ross shopping center neighborhood, and down at Adams Open Space, personally.  Although I don't see reports in e-bird, I am aware that some have been seen in recent years in Colorado Springs, too - for example, at Patty Jewett Golf Course.  So far they do not seem to have nested across highway 85/87 in the Fountain Creek Regional Park, Venetucci or Pinello to my knowledge - although they can occasionally be seen in those places - hoping someone will see them at Saturday's Spring Count at Fountain Creek Regional Park.  Although it is a little early to tell, this year it looks like there may be two nesting pairs within two houses from each other on my street and possibly several others - maybe a dozen or so - within a half mile circle.  I can only estimate because I try not to be creepy to my neighbors by pinning down numbers and nesting sites precisely, peering into backyards all over the neighborhood and honestly I work a lot of hours and just make note of what I see and hear as I drive to work or am out and about in my neighborhood.

If you don't mind a few "off-topic" pictures in the mix, I have some photos and notes of the Kites in my area here, based on searching "Kite" on my blog:

Diana Beatty
El Paso County

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