Thursday, August 19, 2010

Mississippi Kite nest!

Mississippi Kites are a very new addition to Ohio's breeding avifauna, having only been confirmed as nesters. Read on for a post that I made to the Ohio Birds Listserv today that briefly summarizes the situation:

"Hi all,

Exciting news! An active nest of Mississippi Kites has been discovered
in northern Hocking County. An alert homeowner had tipped me to these
birds a few weeks back, then followed up later with some photos, one of
which showed two adults in the same tree. She continued to monitor them
when possible, and called early yesterday morning to report that a new
bird - heavily striped below - had appeared on the scene. By now it was
clear that there was an active nest nearby. I could not make it down to
the site due to a meeting, but Tim Daniel, photographer for the Ohio
Division of Wildlife, was able to make the trip and Tim deserves major
congratulations for finding the actual nest - the first nest of a
Mississippi Kite discovered in Ohio. We never could find the nest at the
Brass Ring Golf Course in southern Hocking County even though the birds
there obviously nested locally.

As of right now, it appears that the adult kites are still feeding one
youngster in the nest, although the nest is high enough off the ground
and concealed well enough that the contents can't be seen. But when
adult kites are flying to the nest with annual cicadas and stuffing them
into something, you can pretty well be sure there is a kitelet in there
gobbling them up. And the other youngster is already out and
free-flying. Mississippi Kites normally have two eggs per clutch.

Tim took an absolutely incredible series of photos of both the juvenile
and the adults, including a stunner of one of the adults eating a cicada
wile on the wing. I'll post some of these to my blog later tonight:

It appears that Mississippi Kites are colonizing the Hocking River
Valley and environs. The Brass Ring Golf Course pair in southern Hocking
County came to light in 2007 (Ohio's first breeding record), and the
following year a pair was noted in nearby Athens County, although
nesting wasn't confirmed. Now we have this pair in northern Hocking
County. One has to wonder how many others might be out there, and
hopefully we can look forward to seeing even more future expansion of
this beautiful raptor.

The reason for not getting the word out earlier is that the kite nest is
located in Hide-A-Way-Hills, a private resort that is gated. One cannot
just wander in; permission from a landowner is required and the guard at
the gate must have an authorized name for entry.

We really want to help provide an opportunity for interested parties to
see these birds, and the landowner has very graciously helped to work
out a plan for doing so. She lives in Columbus and is only at
Hide-A-Way-Hills on occasion, but will be there this Saturday morning,
August 21st. So, if you are able to make the trip between 9 am and noon,
we will make sure that you are provided access. If you would like to
visit the kites, please e-mail me your name so that we can provide it to
the gatehouse. I'll send interested parties directions as well. I'd need
to know if you would like to go by 5 pm tomorrow, as it won't be
possible to turn in any names after that.

Sorry for the short notice on this one, but circumstances just didn't
allow for other options."

I really want to thank the Hide-A-Way-Hills homeowner, Elizabeth vanBalen Delphia, for finding the birds and bringing them to light. It is entirely due to her work that we are able to finally document the actual nest of a kite in Ohio. Elizabeth has been fantastic about jumping through hoops to allow birders in to the gated Hide-A-Way-Hills community to see the birds this Saturday, too. It is going to be a major kite party, from 9 am until noon, and many birders are planning on coming.

Tim Daniel of the Ohio Division of Wildlife is one of the Midwest's best wildlife photographers, and you'll see why when you view the following series of photos, taken yesterday. I thank Tim for allowing me to share them here.

Adult Mississippi Kite. You wouldn't want to be a cicada or dragonfly and look over your shoulder to see this view.

Mississippi Kites are not all that much smaller than a Peregrine Falcon, but weigh only a little more than 1/3rd as much as the falcon. Thus, they are light and bouyant; superb aerialists that float gracefully and are incredibly fleet and agile when they want to be. This one has snagged an annual cicada, their preferred food.

Not only do kites deftly pluck large rapid insects such as cicadas and dragonflies out of midair, they also eat them on the wing, such as this one is doing. Probably most of their feeding, both here and in their South American wintering grounds, is done on the wing. Kites patrol low over woodland canopies or rocket down into open gaps and snag big bugs as they fly from cover, or grab dragonflies as they hunt in forest openings.

The newest addition to Ohio's growing Mississippi Kite family. The adult kites are probably still stuffing cicadas into this young one, which is trying to figure out the nuances of plucking small fast objects from the sky.

As was the case with the Brass Ring Golf Course kites in southern Hocking County, this youngster seems to have a favored perch where he sits and begs for food from the hard-working parents. This is an amazing shot by Tim.

Finally, ta-da, the nest. Great work by Tim and Elizabeth to ferret out its location. Mississippi Kites often nest high in leafy canopies of deciduous trees, near the trunk. It can be quite hard to find the little structures, which aren't very substantial. As the adults were observed bringing prey to the nest and stuffing it into something, we can only assume that the other youngster is still home.

My hunch is that Mississippi Kites are not truly "new" nesters in Ohio; rather, they are reclaiming a part of their former range. The first major habitat type to suffer major destruction was Ohio's river floodplain forests and adjacent woodlands, which is primary kite habitat. Early settlers used rivers as highways, floating throughout the Ohio country and establishing settlements along waterways. Along the way, they converted old-growth bottomland forests to rich croplands, and harvested hardwoods from nearby upland forests.

So, the return of Mississippi Kites may well be a positive sign of forest recovery; a long-delayed rebound effect.


Russell Reynolds said...

Awesome. What a beautiful bird. Fantastic photos.

Oriole said...

Wow! Love Mississippi Kites, have seen them in west Tennessee. Amazing to think they're nesting in Ohio.

sjlarue said...

Looks like a great opportuity. I'll see you tomorrow.

Hallie said...

What an exciting discovery. First Merlins, then another Kite nest. I presume someone has or will put it on the OBBA II?

DenPro said...

Well I'm glad Robyn (from Wakeena) called you on this. Thanks to you and Liz for making the arrangements. This was a new bird for me.

Buford Nature said...

Thank you VERY much for including a photo of the nest. So many bird books describe hawk nests as simply "stick nests," when actually they are constructed in a species-specific manner. My searches of nest descriptions of hawks convinces me that birders can make a significant contribution in this regard.

For example, I found nests of the crested caracara to be composed of fine (<1/8 inch) graminoid stems, lianas, briars and twine with a central pad of palm fibers, constructed only in cabbage palms that almost always exhibited numerous dried inflorescences and only one or two lianas.

In your case, it looks like the sticks consistently average 1/4 inch in diameter and the nest appx 14" across by 8" deep.

I found a similar nest on a ranch in S FL, but the sticks ranged 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick, and am still wondering what kind of nest it might have been.