Mississippi Kite enjoys Clark County Wetlands Park
By Scott Clemson - July 2, 2020
First seen on July 1st, 2020 by Corey S., a 2nd year Mississippi Kite (MIKI) has graced the Park’s snags, aether, and wetlands for many to observe. L. 13-17” WS 31-37”
Ictinia Mississipiensis ( ἱκτινοσ [iktinos] Greek = kite, + of Mississippi) has been officially documented in Nevada only 11 times since 1986 (according to Martin Meyers’ perusal of NBRC records), with 8 of those sightings in Clark County.
This bird’s appearance fits the time frame of late spring and early to mid- summer for all other occurrences. Apparently both male and female will incubate and raise their downy eyases ( eyas/eyass a baby falcon)… so perhaps this bird had already finished its familial duties and was now free to wander west and up the Colorado River ? Many MIKI’s are already paired up by the time they might return to the US from wintering grounds…so perhaps this bird instead was unsuccessful in finding a mate during its first winter and therefore unfettered by nest duties. They are normally dwellers of the SE US, breeding westward into Texas and north to Kansas. Some overwinter in the southernmost parts of their US range, but many migrate to central and S America, some as far south as Argentina. Mississippi Kites are quite gregarious and non-territorial, even during the height of breeding, often congregating in large groups (as do Swallow-tailed Kites). Perhaps this sociality is enabled by their primarily insect-based diet, where an abundance of the dragonflies, or grasshoppers, or cicadas they love, minimizes the more intense competition for larger more scarce prey faced by most raptors? However, MIKI’s will also eat lizards and small mammals and birds (documented as having caught small bats, and even feeding plucked chimney swifts to their offspring !) Apparently they are generally silent, save some warning notes when their nests are threatened. (Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds, Terres)
Several of us had the immense pleasure of observing our visiting tourist MIKI from quite close range while it perched and preened at a snag’s apex, which location afforded a commanding view for the Kite over a very large swathe of the Wetlands Park south toward Duck Creek. This is a 2nd year bird as evidenced by its still partly brownish underparts and wings, with residual brownish grey bands on the underside of the tail still retained. Eventually the brown will all be replaced by greys or black. Once on the wing, we could see a part of this refeathering process, as the bird was missing a matching secondary on each wing. Adult or juvenile, their red-irised eye surrounded by black, is striking ! A unique and diagnostic feature of the Mississippi Kite’s wing is the short first primary, often noticeable as protruding somewhat thumb-like closer to the wing’s “elbow” than to the wing tip itself, which tip is formed instead by the second primary wing feather.
What a beautiful aerialist ! Although falcon-like in shape, this Kite in flight might best be described as graceful, flexible, and buoyant, as opposed to words like “fearsome”, “awesome”, or “missile-like” that better suit most falcons. We observed the Kite snag a dragonfly (?) in midair, then, as is their wont, lower its head downward toward its grasping talons to dissect and then swallow pieces of the prey, all with ease while still gracefully remaining aloft. The ability of this bird to lithely flex and separately rotate it head, body, and tail from front to back and side to side, so as to maintain perfect gymnastic control in the varying breezes, was a unique joy to behold.
One never knows what wonderful surprises Nature will afford us…so thanks to all for keeping eyes wide, and for sharing the love.