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Title: Observations on the Mississippi Kite in Southwestern Kansas
Author: Fitch, Henry S., 1909-2009
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Observations on the Mississippi Kite in Southwestern Kansas" ***

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                      MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY

                    Volume 12, No. 11, pp. 503-519

-------------------------  October 25, 1963  -------------------------

                    Observations on the Mississippi Kite
                         in Southwestern Kansas


                            HENRY S. FITCH

                         UNIVERSITY OF KANSAS


        Editors: E. Raymond Hall, Chairman, Henry S. Fitch,
                       Theodore H. Eaton, Jr.

                     Volume 12, No. 11, pp. 503-519
                       Published October 25, 1963

                         UNIVERSITY OF KANSAS
                          Lawrence, Kansas

                              PRINTED BY
                            TOPEKA. KANSAS
                             [Union Logo]

                 Observations on the Mississippi Kite
                       in Southwestern Kansas


                            HENRY S. FITCH

The Mississippi kite (_Ictinia mississippiensis_) is one of the common
raptors of Kansas, occurring regularly and abundantly in summer in
that part of the state south of the Arkansas River. In 1961, in an
attempt to find out more about the ecology of the species in Kansas, I
made several trips to parts of the state where kites could be found in
numbers, notably to Meade County State Park in the southwestern part
of the state, 7½ miles south and five miles west of Meade. Little has
been written regarding the species in this extreme northwestern part
of its breeding range, where it thrives under ecological conditions
much different from those that prevail elsewhere in its range. Also,
the social behavior and food habits have been given relatively little

In my field study I was helped by my son, John H. Fitch, who climbed
to many kite nests and spent many hours observing in the field. My
daughter, Alice V. Fitch, likewise aided me by keeping nests under
surveillance. Dr. Claude W. Hibbard of the University of Michigan and
Mr. Harry Smith, superintendent of Meade State Park, also kindly
provided much useful information concerning the history of the colony
of Mississippi kites at the Park. Mr. William N. Berg analyzed
pellets, and Dr. George W. Byers kindly checked many of the
identifications, and provided generic and specific determinations for
some of the insects.

In general, the range, habits and ecology of the Mississippi kite are
already well known through the publications of Audubon (1840), Chapman
(1891), Bendire (1892), Ganier (1902), Wayne (1910), Nice (1931), Bent
(1936), Sutton (1939) and Eisenmann (1963). The breeding range is the
southeastern United States, chiefly within the Austroriparian
Life-zone, but extending northwest through much of Oklahoma and into
southern Kansas. The species is highly migratory. Wintering
Mississippi kites are known from Argentina and Paraguay (Eisenmann,
_op. cit._:74), and most of the population probably winters in
southern South America, but records outside the breeding range are

The Mississippi kite is perhaps one of the most social raptors. It is
highly gregarious, not only in its migrations but in breeding
colonies. All breeding pairs seen were closely associated with other
individuals, with no territorial hostility; signs of intraspecific
intolerance are rare, even where the kites are abundant. In the
nesting season many of both sexes perch together in the same tree, and
groups tend to keep together as they forage.

Secondary sexual differences are slight. Seven males in the University
of Kansas Museum of Natural History collection average 351 (342 to
360) millimeters in length, and six females average 361 (348 to 370)
millimeters. Sutton (_op. cit._:44) collected 16 breeding kites near
Arnett, Oklahoma in 1936 and 1937 and recorded that eleven males
averaged 245 (216 to 269) grams and five females averaged 311 (278 to
339) grams. As indicated by Sutton, the head is paler in the adult
male than in the female, and at close range this difference will serve
for identification of the sexes. The difference in size is scarcely
noticeable in the field.


In Kansas this kite seems to prefer open and even barren terrain, in
contrast with its habitat in forests of the southeastern states.
Typical habitat of Kansas is that of the High Plains, dominated by a
short-grass climax of blue grama (_Bouteloua gracilis_) and buffalo
grass (_Buchloë dactyloides_), with sagebrush (_Artemisia_ sp.),
prickly pear (_Opuntia_ sp.) and other somewhat xerophytic vegetation.
In the Gypsum Hills of south-central Kansas near the Oklahoma border,
the Mississippi kite finds habitat conditions exceptionally favorable.
This is an area of broken topography, dissected by small steep-sided
ravines, often with brush and scrubby trees on the slopes.

At Meade County State Park groves of cottonwoods (_Populus deltoides_)
provided abundant places for perching and nesting. At this locality an
artesian well provided an abundant year round water supply, which was
impounded into an artificial lake half a mile long and a little less
than a quarter mile wide. Water was also impounded in a series of
small ponds maintained for the benefit of fish and waterfowl. Along
with other improvements extensive plantings of cottonwoods and other
trees were made with relief labor in the nineteen thirties. Trees were
scarce on the area originally, but by 1961 there were almost
continuous groves in an area nearly two miles long and three quarters
of a mile wide encompassing the lake and ponds and adjacent areas. In
conversation at the Park in August 1961, Dr. C. W. Hibbard told me of
his observations on the colony of kites since 1936 when his
paleontological field work in that area was begun. He indicated an
area of less than two acres west of the artesian well to which the
colony had been limited in its nesting in 1936, because at that time
few trees were available as nest sites. In subsequent years, as the
trees in the artificially established groves increased in size and
height, and other trees became established naturally where the
impoundments had created favorably moist conditions, the nesting
colony expanded in all directions, and the number of kites increased
tremendously. When my observations were made in 1961, the nesting area
was co-extensive with the cottonwood groves, and there were literally
thousands of trees within the area that provided adequate sites for


The maximum number of kites seen flying at one time at the Park was
44, on August 22, 1961. Probably almost all there were adults, because
fledglings, even though able to fly strongly by this date, were still
spending most of their time perched. The colony of kites was usually
scattered over at least two square miles, and at most times some were
perched, others were flying low and solitarily, hence it is improbable
that the total population or a high percentage of it could be seen
together at any one time or place. More than 40 nests were located in
1961, and probably at least as many more were overlooked. There must
have been a breeding population of at least 100 kites, and probably as
many as 150 in the Park in 1961. H. B. Tordoff recorded on the label
of K. U. Mus. Nat. Hist. no. 30514, taken on September 1, 1951, in
Barber County, Kansas, that it was one of at least 200 at a communal


The Park and its vicinity stood out as a veritable oasis in an almost
treeless region of open rolling topography, with a short-grass type of
vegetation dominating. The kites displayed versatility in their choice
of places to forage. Often they soared over the cottonwood groves, the
lake, or the ponds, but at other times they flew far out over the
plains, and seemed to prefer such open situations. A small herd of
buffalo was maintained at the Park, and their closely grazed pastures
of several hundred acres were favorite foraging grounds for the kites.
Often the kites and buffalo were seen in close association, and at
times the kites must have benefited from the movements of the buffalo,
serving to flush certain insects such as grasshoppers. The latter were
probably the chief food source of the kites in the heavily grazed
pastures. Bent (1936:67) stated: "A flock of from 3 to 20 will sail
about a person, a horseman or a team, traveling through grassy flats
or bushy places, and seize the cicadas as they are scared up." Dr.
Hibbard told me that on one occasion when he had caught a number of
cicadas, he fed them to a pair of kites by tossing them into the air
one by one, and each was seized by a kite which was flying nearby
waiting expectantly.

Mississippi kites are noted for their buoyant and seemingly almost
effortless flight, and their prey is caught while they are on the
wing. In extended flights the kites soar, drift and circle with
frequent easy flapping, at variable heights. Sometimes they are
several hundred feet above the ground. Doubtless the height is
influenced by the types of insects that are flying, and where they can
be found most readily. Even at close range the catching of prey by a
kite is likely to be overlooked by an observer. After being snatched
from the air, the prey is usually eaten while the kite is still in
flight, and the movements of the head in pecking at the objects held
in the talons are much more noticeable than the slight veering from
the course of flight that signals the actual capture. Kites were often
watched while they were hunting in the open areas around the Park. On
June 1, 1961, my son and I observed 16 perched together in a small
tree. From time to time each kite would leave the tree in a short
flight low over the surface of a nearby pool, where it would snatch up
prey, probably a dragonfly in many instances, and would return to a
perch to feed. Most of the time one or several kites were in flight
while the majority were perched. Similar observations were made on
smaller groups perched on fence posts along the edges of large
pastures. Gregarious tendencies were evident from the fact that two or
more of the kites perched fairly near together on separate but
sometimes adjacent fence posts. Each kite in turn would glide from its
post, skim low over the ground surface for a few seconds, seize its
prey with a sudden slight swerving, and return to the fence (usually
to a different post from the one it had left) to feed upon the insect
captured. Grasshoppers of many species were abundant in the area. It
seemed that grasshoppers were flushed from the ground by the bird
flying near them and were picked off before they were well underway.
In any case the prey was taken from the air rather than from the
ground in all observed instances. Ganier (1902:86) mentioned seeing
one of these kites alight on the ground in a cotton field, where it
stayed for more than a minute, but perching on the ground is unusual.

Most often kites that were catching their prey by skimming close to
the ground did not return to a perch but ate while they were flying.
Associations of groups on posts at edges of fields, in trees or in
flight were ephemeral as each bird seemed driven by a restless urge to
be in motion. The kites generally gave the impression of catching
their prey effortlessly and casually in the course of their flights.
However, on July 20, 1961, one flying over a pond was seen to swoop
three times in rapid succession at a dragonfly without catching it.
The kite then flew higher, circled, and swooped three times more at
the dragonfly, catching it on the last attempt. Most of the insects
preyed upon are slower and less elusive than dragonflies, which are
largely immune to the attacks of flying predators because of their
great prowess in flight.

Only on rare occasions could the kind of prey captured be observed in
the field. Food habits were studied by collecting pellets of the kites
at the Park, and analyzing them. The pellets were usually disgorged
early in the morning while the kites were still on their night roosts
in large cottonwoods. Often several kites roosted in the same tree.
The pellets were of characteristic appearance, elliptical,
approximately 15 millimeters in diameter, 30 millimeters long, pinkish
or purplish, composed of insects' exoskeletons compacted, and
comminuted to about the consistency they would have after passing
through a meat grinder.

A total of 205 pellets was collected--37 on August 20, 1960; 56 on
July 18, 1961; 60 on August 4 and 5, 1961, and 52 on August 21 to 23,
1961. A total of 453 separate items was tentatively identified.
Obviously the material was far from ideal for the identification of
prey, which had to be reconstructed from minute fragments. The kites
are dainty feeders and discard the larger and less digestible parts
such as wings, legs, and heads. Often it was uncertain how many
individuals or how many kinds of insects were represented in a pellet.
Probably most pellets contained many individuals of the same species,
but these were not separable. Hence, only 2.2 items per pellet were
found, whereas Sutton found an average of 22.2 items in each of the 16
stomachs that he examined.

Best information concerning kinds of prey utilized was obtained soon
after the fledglings had left the nest; on various occasions these
still clumsy young dropped nearly intact insects that were delivered
to them by the adults. These insects, recovered from beneath the
perches, were the basis for all specific and generic determinations;
other material was determinable only to order or to family.

One of the most significant outcomes of the examination of pellets was
the finding that vertebrates were scarcely, if at all, represented in
the food. Three pellets contained shreds that seemed to be mammal
hairs, but in the absence of other remains, the diagnosis is somewhat
doubtful. Many species of small mammals, birds, reptiles and
amphibians were common in the Park or its vicinity, but insects made
up nearly all the recorded prey. Audubon (1840:73) mentioned lizards
and small snakes in the food and gave a dramatic but perhaps
imaginative account of a kite swooping and snatching a lizard (anole)
from the topmost branch of a tree. Goss (1891:251) stated: "I have
seen them swoop down, and, with their claws, snatch lizards from the
ground, rocks and old logs, sometimes stopping to eat them, but, as a
rule, feeding on the wing." Bendire (1892:179) stated that the food
was mostly insects "probably varied with a diet of small rodents,
lizards and snakes." Wayne (1910:71) stated that the food consisted
almost entirely of insects and lizards. Bent (1936:67-68), after
stating that small snakes, lizards and frogs were sometimes taken,
cited a statement in the notes of G. W. Stevens that the latter had
found the remains of toads, mice and young rabbits in nests with
young. However, Sutton (_op. cit._:51) in a detailed analysis of the
stomach contents of 16 kites in Oklahoma, found only insects and
remains of one small fish among a total of 358 prey items. Predation
on vertebrates must be rare, and perhaps requires further verification
in view of the rather vague character of the records so far published.

The following list includes both the prey found beneath perches of
fledglings and that identified from pellets, the latter mostly from
adult kites.

      unspecified                          187
      carabid                               39
        unspecified                         18
        _Cicindela_ sp.                      2
        unspecified                         18
        _Hydrous_ sp.                        1
        unspecified                          1
        _Canthon_ sp.                        3
        _Necrophorus_ sp.                    1
      unspecified                          120
        unspecified                         34
        _Arphia crassa_                      1
        _Melanoplus_ cf. _differentialis_,   2
        _Schistocerca_ cf. _lineata_         1
        _Xanthippus corallipes_              2
        unspecified                          3
        _Daihinia_ sp.                       1
        unspecified                         15
        _Tibicen_ cf. _pruinosa_             1
    lepidopteran (unspecified moth),         3

At Meade State Park I gained the impression that much of the foraging
is carried on near the nest. The short time lapse between successive
feedings was one indication, and from time to time while keeping nests
under observation, I saw kites that were individually recognizable as
the owners coursing back and forth in the vicinity. However, only a
few individuals were recognizable. For several minutes before and
after delivering food, such an adult was often seen soaring within 200
to 300 yards of the nest, or sometimes much closer. A somewhat
different impression was received on August 23, 1961, at Natural
Bridge, south of Sun City, Barber County, Kansas, where I observed two
pairs of kites feeding fledglings. One fledgling was seen to be fed
ten times in a 1½ hour period. The transfer of food from the adult
usually required less than a minute. Then the adult would leave the
tree, in a ravine, and drift away. Circling and soaring, it seemed to
be wandering aimlessly, but within two or three minutes it was usually
out of sight over the horizon. In what appeared to be slow, lazy,
flight it usually drifted off to the west, to more upland areas of
short grass and sage brush. Once, watching from a high knoll I
succeeded in keeping it in view for almost five minutes, and during
most of this time it appeared to be between one and two miles away,
but it finally moved off even farther. Dr. Hibbard mentioned seeing
kites in the vicinity of the Jinglebob Ranch eight to ten miles from
the Park, and he believed that these individuals had come from the
Park since there was no suitable habitat in the intervening areas.
Actually, the distance could have been covered in a few minutes'
flying time, but it is unlikely that these individuals were feeding
young at the Park, else they would not have wandered so far. On
several occasions groups of from three to 20 individuals were seen in
open terrain as much as four or five miles from the Park.

                            Breeding Cycle

Probably kites arriving from their northward migration are already
paired. In those observed at the Park in the first week of June, there
was no indication of courtship, or of sexual rivalry. On June 1, 1961,
incubation had begun. The birds had arrived some three weeks earlier,
according to Smith. Although arriving from the south long after most
raptors have begun their nesting, the kites are not further delayed by
establishment of territories and choosing of mates, and nesting is
underway soon after their arrival. According to Sutton (1939:45) the
nest-building is an exceedingly leisurely process. In the first two
weeks after their arrival he observed that the kites only occasionally
bring a twig to the nest, usually repairing last year's structure
rather than starting a new one. Sutton recorded egg-laying on May 17
and 18 and hatching on June 18 in northwestern Oklahoma, and the
timing of these events must be similar in Meade County, Kansas.

Shortly before sunset on June 1 a pair was observed at close range
from a parked automobile as the kites perched on roadside fence posts
about 50 feet apart at the Park boundary. At this time the birds
lacked their usual restlessness and were perching quietly, neither
preening nor attempting to find prey. With no preliminaries the male
flew to the female and lit on her back to copulate. The female was
receptive but did not crouch in a horizontal position. The mounting
lasted for approximately a minute. During the first 30 seconds the
male was fully occupied with balancing and positioning himself, and
copulation occurred only during the latter half of the mounting.
During this interval cloacal contact was effected three times, but was
only momentary each time. The birds were silent. After the male left,
the female continued to perch until flushed by my movements.

Judging from the nests that were examined, the kites of the Meade Park
area are well synchronized in their nesting, as all arrive at
approximately the same time. Bent (1936:66) stated that if a kite's
nest is robbed, the birds will lay a second set, either in the old
nest or a new one, about two weeks later. All young seen at Meade
State Park seemed to represent an age range of considerably less than
two weeks, and, presumably, no renestings were involved.

Nests were variable in size. Some were remarkably small in relation to
size of the kites, and would scarcely have been credited to this
species, had not the kites been seen sitting on them. Nests were from
10 to 18 (average 14) inches long and from 10 to 14 (average 11.7)
inches wide, in forks or crotches of branches. The branches supporting
the nests were from 1½ to 10 inches in diameter. The nests were
constructed of twigs of approximately pencil size. Of 37 nests at the
Park, 29 were in cottonwoods, six were in willows, and two were in
elms. The figures probably reflect the relative numbers of each of
these species of tree rather than any clear-cut preference of the
kites. By the time nesting has begun the trees have leafed out, and
the nests are well concealed.

At the time of my visit to the Park, July 18 to 22, nestlings were
well grown, and were beginning to feather out. On August 4 and 5 the
young were well feathered, but flight feathers were not fully grown
and the young remained in the nest or perched on nearby branches. On
August 21 to 24 the young were fully fledged, and were able to fly
strongly but they still spent most of their time perching and those of
a brood tended to stay near together, usually in the nest tree.

In a total of 26½ hours of observation, 148 feedings were
observed--on the average one per 10.7 minutes. The interval changed
from an average of 12.8 minutes for 62 feedings on July 19 to 21, to
8.5 minutes for 59 feedings on August 4, and to 10.8 minutes for 27
feedings on August 21. The longer interval on July 19 to 21 may have
resulted from the greater furtiveness of the adult kites at this stage
in their nesting cycle. Nests usually were watched through field
glasses at distances of 50 to 100 feet. Ordinarily kites are not
disturbed by the presence of a person at these distances, but when
delivering food to the nest they seemed somewhat distracted and
sometimes stopped only momentarily then left, still carrying the food.
Usually they swooped at the observer when leaving; rarely they swooped
at him as they approached the nest. All observations were between
10 a.m. and 5 p.m., and there was no obvious trend according to time.
Earlier and later in the day the rate of delivery is probably less.
The kites are notably late risers, and their activity increases
gradually after sunrise; in late afternoon activity tapers off again.
In 89 feedings, the average visit to the nest lasted 51 seconds but
this average included a few relatively long stops, up to four minutes
in length, and 60 per cent of the visits were for intervals of 30
seconds or less.

Insects often protruded from the bills of the adult kites delivering
food, but most of the food was carried in the throat. Sometimes the
gorge was much distended, although nothing protruded from the mouth.
The adult upon alighting sometimes would pass food to the nestling,
and sometimes would disgorge a mass of food in the nest in front of
the nestling. When the young were small, the adult after having
disgorged a food mass, remained to pick up the food, bit by bit, and
place it in the mouth of the nestling. However, after the young were
partly feathered out the adult merely left the food for them. The
nestling sometimes would peck at the disgorged material for several
minutes after the adult left before all of the food was eaten.

The small nestlings are generally silent, but when handled or
otherwise disturbed, they give soft lisping peeps. By early August,
when the young have ventured from the nest bowl to nearby branches,
they become vocal and their calls can be heard more often than those
of the adults. The call of the adult has been well rendered by Sutton
(1939:43) with the syllables "phee phew"--a whistle in which the first
syllable is short (lasting only about one-fourth of a second) with a
rising inflection, clipped off short, while the second syllable has a
downward inflection, and is drawn out to two or three times the length
of the first syllable. The call of the fledgling is soft, with a
lisping quality; that of the adult is much like it but is sharper and
more piercing. Fledglings call frequently while waiting to be fed, but
as an adult approaches with food, the calls are given in rapid
succession and slurred to a high thin squablike squeaking or

When fledglings are able to fly and have left the nest, the adults
generally pass food to them directly, rather than dropping the
regurgitated mass, which might fall to the ground and be lost. On
August 22 a fledgling was seen following an adult in flight, and was
also seen to eat while it was flying. At this stage, when an adult fed
one young of a brood, the other would sometimes fly to the spot in an
attempt to share the meal. However, the transfer of food was usually
rapid and the adult would leave within a few seconds. Young often were
seen to fly out from the nest tree and maneuver in the vicinity,
flying in a roughly circular course perhaps 100 feet in diameter and
then returning to the nest tree, thereby familiarizing themselves with
their surroundings.

According to the consensus of published accounts, there are usually
two eggs per clutch, occasionally one or three. However, Ganier
(1902:89), who studied the species in Mississippi, wrote: "Of all the
nests I have examined [number unspecified] only one was found to
contain more than a single egg." Nice (1931:69) recorded 19 sets of
two each and seven of one each in Oklahoma. In the course of my
observations, 12 clutches of two were recorded. A group of four
fledglings were observed concentrating their activities at a nest more
than 200 feet from any other known nests; possibly all belonged to the
same brood, but this was not definitely determined.

Many of the nests that were in use in 1961 appeared to be relics from
earlier years, as the material was darkened and disintegrating, but
probably a new layer of sticks had been added on the top. Bent (_op.
cit._:65) mentioned this kite's habit of frequently using the same
nest in successive years. On one occasion as I drove over a
little-used road in the Park and passed a cottonwood grove where kites
were nesting, one of the birds swooped down and struck the top of the
automobile. In a subsequent conversation, Harry Smith asked me if this
had happened, and said that this particular kite had struck his truck
frequently when he drove past its nest. This had occurred at the same
place in three successive years, and Smith was convinced that the same
kite had used the nest each year, although the bird was not
recognizable except by its unusually aggressive behavior. On dozens of
occasions in the course of my observations kites swooped at me when I
was near their nests, but, except for this one individual, they always
veered away at a distance of several feet or several yards.

At the time of my visit to the Park in early June, kites were
relatively silent and secretive in their behavior. Approximately half
of those that were incubating flushed when a person walked near the
tree, but others continued to sit on their eggs until a person had
climbed to within a few feet of the nest. Upon being flushed, such a
kite, in 50 per cent of observed instances, swooped at least once at
the intruder, but some of the kites would soar overhead, watching
without making any active defense. At the time of my next visit, July
18 to 21, when the kites were feeding well grown nestlings, behavior
at the nest was much different. As soon as a nest was located the
parents began scolding and swooping. At the first nest observed, a
group of eight kites had congregated within two minutes to scold and
harass the intruders. Even kites whose nests were kept under
observation frequently, never became fully reconciled to the intrusion
but there was much difference between individuals in this respect.
Some were reluctant to deliver food and, having secured prey, would
fly about in the vicinity without coming to the nest.

                     Mortality Factors and Defense

Joint defense against a common enemy was noted on July 21, 1961, when
21 kites were seen swooping at a Swainson's hawk perched near the top
of a large cottonwood, where it was partly protected by foliage and
branches. When I flushed the hawk, it was pursued and harassed by the
kites, some of which followed it for nearly a quarter mile although
there were no nests of the kites nearby. On August 4 a group of six
kites was seen heckling a fledgling Swainson's hawk, which crouched
among thick foliage in the top of a tall cottonwood, as the kites
swooped at it, sometimes brushing it with their wings when they swept
past. Dr. Hibbard mentioned an instance in which a horned owl was
flushed, and was chased and heckled by a red-tailed hawk and by a
group of kites. The latter seemed to regard the owl as the greater
enemy, but ordinarily any large raptor arouses their hostility.

Because of their exceptionally swift and skillful flight, the adult
kites have few natural enemies, but the eggs or nestlings are
vulnerable to such enemies as crows, jays, the larger hawks and owls,
and to certain mammalian predators, notably raccoons. Also, many nests
probably are destroyed by the sudden and violent summer storms that
are characteristic of the High Plains. Bendire (1892:178) cited
observations by Goss that in a hailstorm in Barber County, Kansas,
eggs were destroyed in many kites' nests and some of the nests were
almost completely demolished. Several nests found by me to have
incubating eggs in the first week of June were abandoned or had
disappeared completely by July 18, but the cause was not evident. One
nest that was under observation on July 22 had nestlings approximately
two-thirds grown on that date, but on August 4 only a few sticks
remained, and the carcass of a fledgling dangled from a limb ten feet
below the nest. Even at the Park where firearms are prohibited, kites
are sometimes shot by ignorant or malicious persons. In general,
Kansas ranchers recognize the harmless and beneficial habits of kites,
appreciate their esthetic appeal and protect them, but many persons
use them as convenient targets, with utter disregard for the Federal
laws protecting them. Because of the strong popular prejudice against
raptorial birds in general, laws protecting them are usually not
enforced. Law enforcement officers do not take action even when
clear-cut violations come to their attention. Arrest and prosecution
for the killing of any kind of raptor is almost out of the question in

                     Ratio of Immatures to Adults

In the juvenal plumage flight feathers of the kites are brown, barred
with white, much different in appearance from the dark, slaty plumage
of adults. Bent (_op. cit._:67) stated that these barred flight
feathers are retained through the second summer, and he quoted Mr. G.
W. Stevens as having found kites breeding in this immature plumage. On
June 2, 1961, I attempted to determine the ratio of these yearling
kites to others in the population at the Park. Most of the kites seen
were in flight too far away to discern definitely whether or not they
were juveniles, and records were limited to those seen at relatively
close range. In a total of 108 records only 11 pertained to these
yearlings and the remaining 97 were identified as of adults. Beyond
doubt in the course of my counts some individuals were recorded
repeatedly, therefore the counts are not entirely acceptable. However,
on each occasion that kites were seen in numbers in early summer, the
adults greatly outnumbered the juveniles. The approximate nine to one
ratio of adults to yearlings seems much too high. Even if the
difference is much less than indicated, the high ratio of adults to
yearlings would seem to imply that the adults have a long life
expectancy. A rather improbable alternative is that some of the
yearlings remain in winter quarters or wander elsewhere rather than
accompanying the adults on the return migration to their breeding
grounds. Still another alternative is that the breeding season of 1960
was relatively unsuccessful, but this idea is negated by my own
observations at the Park in late 1960, as recently fledged young were
numerous then.

At the time of my visit to the Park August 21 to 24, 1961, all young
had recently left the nests and were able to fly. However, their
behavior was so much different from that of the adults that a reliable
ratio could not be obtained. The fledglings tended to remain in the
nest tree, or to make relatively short flights near it, while the
adults occupied with catching of prey for themselves and their young,
spent much of their time aloft. The adults were hence far more
conspicuous than the fledglings. However, it is my impression that the
fledglings were from one-third to one-fourth as numerous as the
adults. If this ratio is correct, and if all adults had bred, from
two-thirds to three-fourths of the eggs and/or nestlings must have
been destroyed. This rate of loss seems reasonable in view of the
known histories of nests observed in June and again in July, and of
the fates of birds' nests in general.


Mississippi kites were studied in southwestern Kansas in the summer of
1961, at various localities, especially at Meade State Park. At this
locality, near the northwestern limit of the breeding range, the kite
thrives in typical High Plains habitat dominated by a short-grass type
of vegetation, but availability of trees suitable for nests is a
limiting factor. Since maturing of extensive groves of cottonwoods and
other trees planted at Meade State Park, the colony of kites has
increased tremendously and the breeding population probably exceeded
100 in 1961.

The kites are social in all their activities and do not maintain
territories. The sexes differ little in appearance, but males are
slightly smaller than females and have paler heads. Food consists
almost entirely of flying insects, and these are usually eaten while
the kite is in flight. Kites that are feeding nestlings may travel up
to two miles from the nest or perhaps considerably farther in the
course of their foraging. For 148 feedings of nestlings the observed
intervals averaged 10.7 minutes. Most published references to the food
habits mention predation on small vertebrates, especially lizards, but
including also snakes, toads, rodents, and even rabbits. In my study a
total of 205 pellets were collected and 453 insects were tentatively
identified but the total number of insects in the pellets was much
larger. No vertebrates were identified from this sample and among 358
prey items identified from kite stomachs collected in Oklahoma, by
Sutton, vertebrae of a small fish were the only vertebrate remains.
Further verification of predation on mammals, reptiles and amphibians
by this species is needed. Of the insects distinguished in pellets,
beetles including carabids, cicindelids, hydrophilids, scarabaeids,
and silphids were most numerous (270) and grasshoppers (164) were
second; also there were 16 cicadas and three moths.

Kites arrive in Kansas about the second week in May. Often old nests
are repaired and used over again. Hatching is about mid-June. Normally
there are two eggs per clutch. By mid-August the fledglings are
learning to fly. By the latter part of August they are learning to
capture their insect prey, and in early September southward movement
of the entire population begins.

Eggs and/or young in many nests are destroyed by hail or high wind in
the sudden violent storms that are characteristic of the High Plains.
Mississippi kites are often shot by misguided persons, and benefit
little from the protection supposedly provided by Federal law.
However, the adults probably have few natural enemies. The high ratio
of older adults to yearlings indicates that the life expectancy is
long. Through their second summer the kites retain their barred
immature plumage, and can be readily distinguished from adults. Only
ten per cent of the kites recorded in 108 June sight records at the
Park were in juvenile plumage.

                           Literature Cited

    AUDUBON, J. J.
        1840. The birds of America. Philadelphia, pp. xv + 246.

    BENDIRE, C. E.
        1892. Life histories of North American birds. U. S. National
              Mus. Spec. Bull. 1, viii + 446 pp.

    BENT, A. C.
        1937. Life histories of North American birds of prey. Bull.
              U. S. Nat. Mus., 167, x + 409 pp. 102 pls.

    CHAPMAN, F. M.
        1891. On the birds observed near Corpus Christi, Texas, during
              parts of March and April, 1891. Bull. Amer. Mus. Nat.
              Hist., 3:315-328.

        1963. Mississippi kite in Argentina, with comments on
              migration and plumage in the genus _Ictinia_. Auk,

    GANIER, A. F.
        1902. The Mississippi kite (_Ictinia mississippiensis_). The
              Osprey, vol. 1 (new series), No. 6:85-90.

    GOSS, N. S.
        1891. History of the birds of Kansas. Geo. W. Crane and Co.,
              Topeka, 692 pp.

    NICE, M. M.
        1931. The birds of Oklahoma (rev.). Publ. Univ. Oklahoma,
              vol. 3, Biol. Surv. No. 1, 261 pp.

    SUTTON, G. M.
        1939. The Mississippi kite in spring. Condor, 41(2):41-52.

    WAYNE, A. T.
        1910. Birds of South Carolina. Contr. Charleston Mus., No. 1,
              viii + 254 pp. The Daggett Printing Co., Charleston,
              S. C.

_Transmitted June 3, 1963._


   *   *   *   *   *

Transcriber's Notes

Emphasis Notation:

    _Text_ : Represents Italics

Typographical Corrections

With the exception of the five typographical corrections listed below,
the text of this file is that which is contained in the original
printed volume:

    Page 505: misspelling    - misisippiensis => mississippiensis
    Page 505: missing period - op cit.        => op. cit.
    Page 510: missing period - op cit.        => op. cit.
    Page 514: misspelling    - sqeaking       => squeaking
    Page 515: misspelling    - harrassed      => harassed

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