Documented in text and photographs by Darrell Vollert
Washington County, TX
April 9 to August 22, 2001
* Photos with border can be enlarged by clicking on the image.
I have a
few thoughts before I write about my Mississippi Kite observations. I have seen
Mississippi Kites in the Chappell Hill area during the summer months since at least 1985.
From the mid-80s to the mid-90s Mississippi Kites nested in large pecan trees near the
Chappell Hill United Methodist Church on the east side of downtown. Since 1998 Mississippi
Kites have been nesting on the north side of Chappell Hill in my neighborhood. Since that
time I have learned a great deal about the daily lives of the kites. Have watched several
broods of kites grow from the chick stage to the juvenile stage.
A few things I have learned is that Mississippi Kites are very social birds and they are very approachable birds (at least the ones in the Chappell Hill area). I can walk right under the tree where a kite is perched and they will not fly away. They look down upon me with a very curious look about them. Mississippi Kites and Swallow-tailed Kites are the two most graceful flyers in North America in my eyes. They seem to fly with such little effort and they seem to thoroughly enjoy flying. I have seen Miss. Kites at play many times. Have observed them chasing Barn Swallows and Barn Swallows chasing kites.
The favorite food of the Mississippi Kite is grasshoppers. I have observed Mississippi Kites eating countless grasshoppers. They bring grasshoppers to their nestlings shortly after they have hatched.
The residents of Chappell Hill seem to genuinely enjoy having Mississippi Kites around in the summer months. Kites are very beneficial birds to have around. We have had a problem in the county with an over-abundance of grasshoppers this summer and last summer. I have mentioned to my neighbors that the kites love eating grasshoppers. Most of the residents of Chappell Hill have a big yard with lots of big trees and open space. This is the type of habitat that Mississippi Kites prefer.
I don't fully understand why in some years the Mississippi Kites in this area will raise two chicks and in other years only one chick. It may have something to do with food supply for the nestlings.
In August the Mississippi Kites in this area will migrate south to their winter homes. I always hate to see them leave, but I know they will be back in the area again in the spring.
9 April - 1-2 adults seen regularly starting this date
5 May - 1 female
12 May - 1 carrying nest material
19 & 23 May - 1 female
27 May - 1 female on nest
28 May - 1 perched
3, 5, 6 & 8 June - 1 male perched near nest
9-10 June - male at nest, female on nest
11-13 June - male at nest
14 & 16 June - male near nest; female on nest
17 June - female on nest, 3 others soaring high above
18 June - male perched near nest
19-20 June - male perched near nest, female on nest
22 June - female on nest
23 June - two adults near nest with at least one chick
24 June - 2 adults at nest with 2 chicks, one adult brought a wingless cicada to the chicks
25 June - 1 adult
30 June - 2 adults at nest containing 2 chicks
1 July - 2 adults at nest
3 July - 2 adults feeding 2 nestlings grasshoppers and a cicada, The larger of the two kite chicks was standing on the edge of the nest. The larger kite chick had black feathers developing on the wings. Otherwise the chick was white with a black bill and black coloration around the eyes.
4 July - 2 adults, 2 nestlings, the smaller chick still had white feathers all over its body and a much smaller head than the larger chick. Must be at least three days younger than the other chick
5 July - 2 adults, 2 nestlings
6 July - 2 adults, 2 nestlings, got good looks at the larger of the two kite chicks. The head was white, the wings were mostly black, and the breast was mostly white with some reddish-brown streaking.
7 July - 2 adults, 2 chicks were standing on the edge of the nest and panting
8 July - 1 first summer, 2 adults, 2 nestlings
9 July AM - 2 adult soaring in morning
9 July PM - 1 adult shading 2 nestlings from the sun
10 July - 2 adults perched near nest, 2 nestlings
11 July - 2 adult, 2 nestlings. The larger chick's wings are getting darker, the back of its head is getting some brown feathers, and the breast has more brown streaking now. The smaller chick has an all-white head and some black feathers on the wing.
12 July - 2 adult and 2 nestlings, The two nestlings were standing at the edge of the nest. They are really growing. Got a good look at the smaller of the two. The smaller kite is getting more black feathers on the wings and brown feathers on the back of the head. Both nestlings' tails are black now. While at a neighbor's residence this evening I saw one of the adult kites perched in a large Cedar Elm. It was calling another adult kite perched in a pecan tree across FR1155. The calls were a "pew-pew" and another call that sounds like a louder version of the chip call of a warbler- a "chip-chip-chip". I have listened to Thayer Birding Software's "The Birds of North America". Have never heard the Mississippi Kite calls on the Thayer CD-ROM before. The "pew-pew" call is the one that I hear most often here.
14 July - 2 adults, 2 nestlings standing in nest.
15 July - 2 adult birds, 2 chicks, with the larger of the two kite chicks seen branching in the morning for the first time.
16 July - 2 adults, 2 chicks in the nest. In the evening I heard the two Mississippi Kite nestlings calling "pew-pew" for the first time. The call they made sounded more like a begging call than the "pew-pew" call the adult kites make.
17 July - 2 adults, 2 chicks in the nest.
18 July - In the morning I saw two adult Mississippi Kites soaring and a kite soaring that looked like a juvenile. The bird in question had heavy brown streaking on the breast and belly. In the evening I observed two adult Miss. Kites perched in a dead hackberry tree near the nest and the two nestlings in the nest.
19 July - In the morning I saw two adult Mississippi Kites soaring. In the evening I saw an adult Miss. Kite perched in a dead hackberry tree near the nest. The smaller kite chick was in the nest and the larger kite chick was branching near the nest. Saw the larger kite chick make its first flight - a short one to one of the nearby dead hackberry trees where an adult kite was perched. The larger kite chick's breast and belly are heavily streaked with brown coloration, the back of the head is gray and has fine black streaking, the back is mostly black with some white spotting, and its short tail and banded. The smaller kite chick was standing in the nest and flapping its wings.
20 July - In the morning I saw an adult Mississippi Kite perched in a dead hackberry tree and the larger kite chick perched in same tree. Watched the larger kite chick fly approx. 20 feet into a nearby living hackberry tree. Observed the smaller kite chick standing in the nest and flapping its wings. In the evening I observed two adult Miss. Kites perched in dead hackberry trees near the nest. Saw the larger kite chick perched in a dead hackberry tree near the nest. The chick was constantly calling softly "pew-pew, pew, pew". I took several photos of the larger kite chick perched in the dead. The chick looked down upon me with much curiosity. A little later the chick flew back into the nest tree and continued to call. An adult kite flew into to nest tree and fed the smaller kite chick a large insect. The adult kite was still perched at the nest when left when I left at 8PM.
21 July - Early in the morning around 7:30AM I observed an adult Miss. Kite and the larger kite chick perched in a dead hackberry near the nest. The smaller kite chick was standing in the nest and flapping its wings. In the late morning and early afternoon hours I observed the larger kite chick perched in a dead hackberry tree near the nest. The kite chick constantly called "pew-pew". I took several photos of two adult Miss. Kites perched in dead hackberry trees. At one point in the morning I observed four Miss. Kites at once - 2 adults perched in a dead hackberry tree, one sub-adult perched in the same tree as the nest, and one adult kite soaring overhead. The smaller kite chick was observed flapping its wings in the nest. Observed the larger kite chick fly from a dead hackberry tree into a nearby living hackberry tree. It continued to call in the living tree. Observed an adult kite feed the smaller chick a caterpillar. Observed another adult kite feed the larger chick a grasshopper. Later I observed the sub-adult kite fly into a dead hackberry tree with a large grasshopper in its talons. I watched the kite tear apart and eat the grasshopper. The kite would grab the grasshopper with its talons and put it with its beak and then grab it again and place it on a branch and hold it with its talons. It's amazing how much like a kite's talons are used like a human hand for grasping things. In the evening I observed two adults and one sub-adult Miss. Kite perched in dead hackberry trees near the nest. Saw the smaller kite chick in the nest. Watched an adult kite feed the smaller chick. Did not hear the larger kite chick calling in the evening. An adult kite was with the kite chicks when I left at 7:50PM.
22 July - Saw one adult kite early in the morning perched in a dead hackberry tree near the nest. A little later the larger kite chick was perched in a dead tree and calling "pew-pew". Observed the smaller chick perched on a branch near the nest and heard it calling "pew-pew". Saw the larger chick fly around the dead hackberry trees and the living trees several times. Two adult kites were in the immediate area. The larger kite chick perched again in a dead hackberry tree and a snuck up under the tree to get a photo. It got spooked and flew away. It did this to me twice. In the evening I heard the larger kite chick's begging call coming from a neighbor's tree. Observed an adult kite perched in a dead hackberry tree near the nest. Saw the smaller kite chick squatting in the nest late in the evening and the larger kite chick was perched in a living hackberry tree away from the nest tree.
23 July - Early in the morning around 7:30AM I observed one adult Miss. Kite soaring and the larger juvenile kite perched in a dead hackberry tree near the nest. The smaller juvenile kite was squatting in the nest. My sister, Mary Ann Grahmann, and I watched the Mississippi Kites from 1:05PM-1:20PM. The larger juvenile kite was perched fairly low in a living hackberry tree away from the nest. The kite was constantly calling "pew-pew". The smaller juvenile kite was branching about 7 feet away from the nest. The smaller juvenile was also calling "pew-pew" as well. Mary Ann got good video footage of the larger juvenile perched just above us. She was unable to get any footage of the smaller juvenile. I took several photos of both juveniles. The smaller juvenile looks much like the larger juvenile now. At one point in the early afternoon we saw eight Mississippi Kites at one time. The two juveniles were perched in living hackberry trees, a sub-adult was soaring nearby, an adult kite flew into the tree where the smaller juvenile was perched and fed the juvenile a grasshopper, three adult kites were soaring fairly high up, and another juvenile kite fly by just above the tree tops. I always thought there was another Mississippi Kite nest on the west side of Chappell Hill. Seeing a different juvenile kite in flight proved me right. In the evening I saw only the smaller juvenile kite branching near the nest. This juvenile should be flying about very soon.
1 August - 2 juvenile Mississippi Kites perched in hackberry trees along FR1155. Both were constantly calling "pew-pew", begging to be fed. We saw an adult kite feed one of the juveniles 3 times within 15 minutes. All the times a grasshopper was fed to the juvenile kite. The juvenile kite even called as it tore apart its food. The other juvenile kite was fed once during the time we spent watching the kites.
1 August - Around 4:45PM a kettle of 12 Mississippi Kites flew low over my neighborhood along FR1155-North in Chappell Hill. The two local juvenile kites and one of the local adult Miss. Kites were perched in hackberry trees in the neighborhood as the kettle past over the neighborhood. I saw at least 2 juvenile Miss. Kites in the kettle.
3 August - Photographed the older juvenile, showing back and front views.
4 August - I saw the two juvenile Miss. Kites and two adult kites in the yard early in the morning. Still have not found out where the kites roost at night. They just appear in the yard around 7:15AM. For the most part the two juveniles look alike, except for the streaking on their breasts. The older juvenile has browner and bolder streaking on its breast than the younger juvenile. The older juveniles' call sounds more like that of an adult kite than the younger juveniles' call.
13 August - Juvenile on branch.
15 August - Saw Mississippi Kites (4) in the yard early in the morning. The two juvenile kites were perched in a dead hackberry tree. Saw the adult kites bring in prey for the hungry juveniles. While an adult was feeding one juvenile, the other called and swooped down to get some of the food.
16 August - The family of Mississippi Kites are still present in Chappell Hill on FR1155. I am seeing them daily. Saw one of the adults feeding the two juveniles this morning at my residence. It is funny watching the adults feeding the two juveniles now. When an adult kite brings food to one of the juveniles the other juvenile kite, perched nearby, will fly to the adult and try to wrestle the prey away from the first juvenile. The two juveniles are heard constantly calling "pew-pew" in the morning and late afternoon. They also make loud screeching calls when prey is brought in for them to consume. Most of the time a large grasshopper is brought in for the juvenile kites to consume.
17 August - Saw the Mississippi Kites (4) in the morning.
18 August - Birded at my residence along FR1155 in Chappell Hill early in the morning on Saturday and in the evening. A family of resident Mississippi Kites are keeping my neighborhood entertained. A pair of kites, that have nested in my neighborhood for the past three years, raised two young this summer. The two juvenile kites are constantly calling "pew-pew" throughout the morning, late afternoon, and early evening while perched in a dead hackberry tree at my residence. The adult kites are kept busy feeding these hungry juveniles. It is funny watching an adult kite bring in prey for the juveniles. The adult kite will fly to the perch of one of the juveniles to feed it. The other juvenile will immediately fly to the perch of the first juvenile and try to wrestle the prey away from the first juvenile as it is being fed. This happens every time an adult kite brings in prey for the juveniles.... Mississippi Kite(4) two adults and two juveniles.
on 19 August - Mississippi Kite(4) two adults and two juveniles.
on 20 August - Saw Mississippi Kites (4) in the yard.
on 21 August - Saw the family of Mississippi Kites (4) in the yard early in the morning.
on 21 August - In the evening at my residence I saw the two juvenile Mississippi Kites.
on 22 August - At my residence shortly before 7:00AM I looked out my kitchen window and saw the two juvenile Miss. Kites and both adult kites perched together in the same hackberry tree. This would turn out to be the last date that I would see the local Mississippi Kite family this summer.