Saturday, September 17, 2011

Mississippi Kites in Northern Illinois

Mississippi Kite, hanging in Rockford, IL; 8/29/2011.
Last fall (2010) a good birder friend and former teacher colleague of mine, John Longhenry, who takes awesome bird pics, told me about a pair of Mississippi Kites hanging around the Bloom Elementary School neighborhood.  I thought it was unusual for a southern raptor to be in Northern Illinois, and wondered where it was migrating from ... certainly not from north of here. Well, at the time I didn't find the time to go out to get a look at them. Then earlier this past summer I finally did see my first Mississippi Kite on my sister's property in Texas ( ). Then just a couple of weeks ago I heard that the Mississippi Kites were back in Rockford in the same neighborhood as last year, and this time I made the effort to drive out to find them. 

A juvenile Mississippi Kite ruffling its feathers, Rockford, IL; 8/29/2011.
When I pulled up to the Bloom School parking lot to begin my search, another former teacher friend of mine, who happened to live in the neighborhood was walking his dog and spotted me. I told him why I was there (I supposed a weird middle-aged man with a big camera might look suspiscious at an elementary school), and he told me that people with cameras are always camped out taking pictures of these southern raptors, since they started arriving and nesting here 4-5 years ago. That answered my question about where on earth they might be migrating from. It also seems to point out how global warming has changed many birds' migration and nesting habits. Mississippi Kites are traditionally a southern bird, found in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and along the Southern Atlantic Seaboard States as well as along the Southern Mississippi River in Tennessee, Kentucky and Southern Illinois (hence its name).  So their nesting in Northern Illinois for the past half decade is clear indication about the change in climate and temperature and how it affects wildlife.
My friend told me that this summer the M. Kites raised two young and also what tree they like to perch in. After he continued his dog-walking chore, I started to scout out the place, and within minutes I caught sight of a large bird with a high-pitched whistle fly low over the school's playground and alight in the exact tree. This was indeed a Mississippi Kite - in fact a juvenile (Above). It was fairly high up in the tree and was only able to get a few underneath shots. It flew off and a few minutes later I spotted two adult M. Kites hovering in the sky. One of them landed in the same tree (Top and Below) that the juvenile vacated, while the other flew out of sight.
"Only the Shadow knows" pose by a Mississippi Kite, Rockford, IL; 8/29/2011.
Mississippi Kites are a small to medium sized raptor, only growing to be about 14" in length. They have a very unique appearance as they are light grayish on the head and wing tips, with darker wings and belly, and a black tail. Their pale gray head is offset by a dark eye mask and red eyes which help with the mysterious "Shadow" appearance (Above) as I caught it posing like the old 1930's radio and comic book hero, The Shadow, ( ).  Juveniles are less clean in their look as they have coarse dark reddish streaks on their breast, belly, back and neck (two photos Above).

Another look at an adult Mississippi Kite ready to take off from its perch, Rockford, IL; 8/29/2011.
I am glad I took the time to find these magnificent birds, not only because they are rare in Northern Illinois and it allowed me to get better pics of them than the one I photographed in Texas, but it also opportuned me to see two new birds that happened to be in the area: The Common Nighthawk and a Sharp-shinned Hawk (which became #'s 328 & 329 on my Life List), which will be the subject of my next post.

Sunset of the Day
Migrating birds resting in a tree at dusk near our home, Rockford, IL; 4/1/2011.

1 comment:

~Val said...

These guys are so pretty. I'm glad you got to photograph them!