October 19 , 2010

SUBJECT: Mississippi Kites in Rockford, IL

Mississippi Kite

Two summers ago I became aware of a pair of Mississippi Kites that had a nest in a park adjacent to Bloom School in Rockford, IL. During that summer, I photographed the pair and their successful upbringing of one juvenile. It is quite rare to see one Mississippi Kite this far north, but to see a breeding pair? That's unheard of in Northern Illinois.

Thinking that this was just a freak event, I never investigated the neighborhood in 2009. (Big mistake.) It wasn't until after they migrated south that year that I learned that the pair were back again and had one more offspring.

Making a mental note of my neglectfulness, I made sure that in 2010 I would not make the same mistake. So around mid-July I started making weekly trips to Rockford to see if the kites came back for a third year. Sure enough they were back. Not only had the original two returned, but there were three kites in the skies around Bloom School and sometimes four!

Wow! This was quite interesting to say the least. It could be that a new colony of Mississippi Kites are taking up summer residence in Rockford, IL. This is 600 to 700 miles further north than their normal range! Could this be a sign of climate change or just a normal expansion of a bird species that is doing quite well here in the U.S.?

There have been reports in previous years of Mississippi kites breeding in southern Illinois, but as far as I know this is the furthest north that they have bred in the Midwest U.S.

Interestingly, these birds are commonly seen in urban areas. Theory has it this is due to less predation of the young birds from Great Horned Owls. (I do wonder however how many Great Horned Owls have become urbanized in Rockford? Chicago sure has a good number in urban areas.)

Similar to the breeding habits in S. Illinois, these birds only raise one offspring. Theory has it that due to a smaller food supply here in the northern U.S., only one offspring per nest is raised. So far this has held true for the Rockford kites.

As far as their food supply in the Rockford area, they primarily eat cicadas and dragonflies. Occasionally they have eaten Chimney Swifts and when the weather starts to turn cooler, migrating Monarch Butterflies are the catch-of-the-day.

So what happened this year?
This year there were TWO nests (one hatchling per nest) and both juveniles were raised successfully. Simply amazing. Then around the last week in September, the kites took off for warmer weather. Did they migrate all the way to Brazil, like most Mississippi Kites? Or did they settle somewhere along the Gulf Coast as some do during the winter? It certainly would be interesting to put a radio tag on one of the birds to see how far south they migrate in the winter.

No matter where they went, I will be anxiously awaiting their return next spring.

—Alan Stankevitz

one-week old mississippi kite

The above photo shows the juvenile precariously perched in the front-yard bush of a Rockford residence. This image was taken about one week after it fell out of its nest.


juvenile missisippi kite

About three weeks later, the juvenile is almost full-grown and occasionally taking flight for its food. However, begging for food from a branch is still the preferred method. Pictured here dad has just brought in a dragonfly for junior. This particular juvenile was almost entirely fed by the father. (The mother left the area about two weeks after the fledgling had left the nest.)


juvenil Mississippi Kite
Here's an image of the other juvenile. This nest site for this juvenile was about one mile away from the other nest site. Both parents fed junior until they left for the season.




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All photographs © 2002-2007, Alan Stankevitz

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