Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippiensis)

Mississippi Kite

[order] ACCIPITRIFORMES | [family] Accipitridae | [latin] Ictinia mississippiensis | [authority] Wilson, 1811 | [UK] Mississippi Kite | [FR] Milan du Mississippi | [DE] Mississippiweih | [ES] Elanio del Mississipi | [NL] Mississippi-wouw


Genus Species subspecies Region Range
Ictinia mississippiensis NA se, c


Members of the genus Ictinia are medium-sized kites. Their wings are long and pointed, and their tails are medium-sized, square or slightly forked. Te bill is small to medium, with an inconspicuous ‘tooth’ on each edge of the upper mandible. The legs are short; and the talons short but strongly curved. The general colour is grey.
Immatures differ from the adults in colour, but quickly moult to an adult-like plumage.
Although this is, in many ways, a classic kite, the genus is not particularly close to any other. There are two species ranging from central United States to Argentina; those in the cooler parts of range are migratory.

Physical charateristics

The adult male Mississippi Kite has a pale grey head, the pale grey extending to the back of its neck and its secondary flight feathers, the secondaries being tipped with white. The mantle is dark grey, becoming black on the bend of the wing; the upper back blending with paler hind-neck. The tail and primaries are black, the inner primaries with pale rufous area and spots. The lores and a narrow area around eyes are black. The under parts are pale grey, but not as pale as the head. The eyes are deep red; the beak, cere, and inside the mouth deep black; the legs reddish orange. The adult female is similar but the head and shoulders are darker, and the female is appreciably larger than the male. The juvenile kite is white streaked with black on the crown and the sides of its head. Its back is black, with narrow rufous edges and white spotting. The wing and tail feathers are tipped with white, and there are two ventral white tail bands. The throat is white with a few inconspicuous black shaft streaks. Below it is white, tinged with buff and streaked with brown. The eyes not as red as those of the adult. The juvenile plumage is not kept for very long; it is usually moulted before the autumn migration. In immature plumage the juvenile wing and tail quills are retained. The body plumage is like that of the adult, but the under-wing coverts are white-barred; the inner webs of the inner primaries marked with white, and there is some whitish barring on the lower abdomen and thighs.

Listen to the sound of Mississippi Kite

[audio:http://www.planetofbirds.com/MASTER/ACCIPITRIFORMES/Accipitridae/sounds/Mississippi Kite.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 94 cm wingspan max.: 100 cm
size min.: 35 cm size max.: 38 cm
incubation min.: 29 days incubation max.: 31 days
fledging min.: 32 days fledging max.: 36 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 1  
      eggs max.: 3  


North America : Southeast, Central. The Mississippi Kite nests locally in the United States from Kansas, Iowa, Tennessee and South Carolina south to north-western Florida, and the Gulf coast to eastern Texas.


Wooded streams; groves, shelterbelts. For nesting, requires trees (preferably tall) next to open country. In Southeast, found mostly in groves of trees along rivers or swamps where surrounding country is more open. On plains and in Southwest, nests
in tall trees along rivers, in towns, or in groves or shelterbelts on prairie. This is always a social kite. In wooded areas where there are plenty of nesting sites pairs sometimes nest singly. In prairie a forested area may contained a high concentration of breeding pairs. Several individuals often perch in the same tree, even when nesting. It migrates in flocks and probably winters in flocks. Though locally common, its total numbers are less than in the Plumbeous Kite.


Although they migrate in flocks, the kites appear to have formed pairs by the time they arrive in the breeding grounds. There is little or no courtship display, although a pair sometimes fly about ‘chippering’ at each other. Mating takes place without display or calling, and such nest-building as they do begins about a week after arrival. Old nests are often used, either the one of the previous year or an old crow’s nest, and the amount of refurbishment done is minimal. Green twigs are snipped off with the bill while the bird is perched. Twigs are also seized and snapped off with the feet by diving from a height. The nest is placed in a fork or crotch at almost any height within a tree. Some are small and flimsy; others are more compact. They are usually irregular or oval in shape; averaging fourteen inches long, eleven inches wide, and five inches in depth, with a shallow cup lined with green leaves. One to three bluish white eggs are laid, and incubated by both parents for about 30 days. Nesting is usually quite well synchronised within a colony, but a pair will recycle at least once if the eggs are destroyed. The young spend about 34 days in the nest. During the early period, when the young require much food, they are fed frequently, on average every 5? l0 minutes. Mostly the feeding parent spends less than 30 seconds at the nest; rarely over a minute. Insects are sometimes visible protruding from the beak of the parent, but most of them are brought to the nest in the crop, from which the mass of insects is disgorged into the nest. If the young are small, the parent then feeds them; if not, they pick the mass to pieces spend several minutes eating it. Fledged young are fed on the wing. When incubating, the birds sit closely and some do not leave the nest readily. When the nest contains young the parents be come more vociferous; up to a dozen may gather to swoop at an intruder. Owls and hawks are mobbed in similar fashion. Violent summer storms destroy many nests on the High Plains. The nests are raided by raccoons and, at times, presumably, by Horned Owls and by hawks. By late August the number of flying young is probably only two-thirds to three quarters of the number of eggs laid.

Feeding habits

The diet of the Mississippi Kite consists chiefly of large insects caught in flight. Other birds do not fear it. It does, however pursue flying bats and might do the same to swallows. It is known rarely to snatch lizards from treetops and to eat frogs and fish. This kite is most likely to be seen on the wing. Its flight is smooth, graceful, and buoyant, sometimes rather slow and with frequent lazy flapping. It rarely soars, but rather veers about, coursing slowly over the country at varying elevations. A well proportioned bird in the air, at times resembling some of the medium-sized gulls which, like the kite, take flying insects. As it feeds mainly on flying insects, it can survive above most types of country from open prairie to continuous forest.

Video Mississippi Kite


copyright: Bill Wayman


This species has a very large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be increasing, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Mississippi Kite status Least Concern


Long distance Neotriopical migrant; pre-migratory flocks by early August. Loose aggregations of 200-300 birds moving South by early September. Birds move South as far as North Argentina and Paraguay, but extent of Neotropical range poorly known. May remain on austral grounds into March. In late April, as many as 2300 birds per day moving North through coastal Mexico.

Distribution map

Mississippi Kite distribution range map

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