A few notes of thanks are very much in order. Elizabeth vanBalen Delphia is the one that brought the kites to light, and she and her husband Michael were outstanding hosts for Kite Day. Fittingly, the young kite, as we shall see, spent nearly the entirety of Kite Day perched high aloft in a snag in their yard. Melissa Krygier is another part-time HAH resident and she regularly monitors the birds and provides updates.
Warren Levicoff was indispensable in providing traffic control and providing information to Kite Day attendees. The Ohio Ornithological Society (join now!) provided everyone who came with background information about Mississippi Kites and other useful materials, including info on the Midwest Birding Symposium. You want another great time, be sure and attend MBS! Jason Larson greeted people, passed out OOS material, and was his usual ebullient self. Also, the management of Hide-A-Way Hills has been great about tolerating this invasion of birders and that's most appreciated.
At least three well-known bloggers made the scene and have or may offer up their take on Kite Day '11: Heather, Kathi, and Susan. Finally, Dane Adams was there with his big gun camera and man oh man, wait until you see the images that he made of these kites! Dane takes amazing images and is always willing to share the fruits of his labor so that I can share them with you, and I really appreciate his generosity and skills.
The vibes from this event are great - especially since the birds cooperated and everyone got to watch the kites to their heart's content. When Elizabeth first approached me with news of these birds and I came down for a look, the setup seemed conducive for safe viewing without bothering the kites. So we hatched Kite Day '10, and that worked well. This year's event was nearly a mirror copy of last year's, except the birds were even more cooperative and there were even more people.
The young kite, beautifully ornamented with chestnut chevrons, peers curiously at all of the strange bipeds far below. For the most part, the kites utterly ignore the earthbound masses, scarcely deigning to even glance at us. This young bird is only about two months old and left the nest but two weeks ago or thereabouts. It can fly well, and makes occasional test flights, but cannot yet catch its own food. The adults feed it regularly, and Junior is even good enough to alert us to a feeding by loudly whistling when an adult draws near.
This is a fabulous photo for obvious reasons, but made all the more so because these food exchanges happen with great rapidity. The adult is often in and out in seconds. During the four hours that I was there, the adult kites must have delivered food to the youngster 35 times or more. I spent a fair bit of time watching the young kite when he wasn't feeding. The bird scans the skies like a, well, hawk and I am sure that he watches every move that his parents make. Visually tracking them and closely observing how they manage to capture prey undoubtedly plays a large role in how the young bird will eventually form the skills necessary to master the fine art of deftly plucking small flying insects from the air.
One of the adult Mississippi Kites screams overhead, showing its flashy chestnut primaries. There are very few birds that can fly as well as this species can. A Mississippi Kite is only marginally smaller than a Peregrine Falcon in overall dimensions but weighs only a bit more than a third of what the falcon weighs. This translates to an incredible bouyancy when airborn and an astonishing ability to jig and jag in the blink of an eye. Such skills are required when you make your living by harvestng fare such as dragonflies. Ever try to catch a dragonfly with a big net? It ain't easy and plucking one with small talons must be much harder.
There were at least three species of annual cicadas singing in the area: Linne's, lyric, and swamp. I'm sure the kites catch them all. Annual cicadas live for several years as bizarre-looking nymphs underground, tapping the juices from tree roots.When their time is up, the nymphs crawl from the ground, starting in early July, and transform into the winged adults. A photo sequence of this transformation can be seen HERE. The kites time their nesting to coincide with the peak annual cicada emergence, thus assuring the young birds wil have an abundant and nutritious food source.
The young kite teeters on his perch while holding a chunky cicada. Cicadas do not like being grabbed by the sharp talons or bills of kites, and if not killed quickly will emit incredibly loud screehing buzzes. That audio barrage is their last-ditch effort to try and get the predator to drop them. Once, the adult kite flew in with a cicada in full screech mode and we could hear it from several hundred feet. Last year, we noticed that the young kites seem somewhat intimidated by still screeching cicadas and the adults would have to thoroughly silence the bugs before the youngsters would accept them.
Hopefully all while go well for these kites, and in a few months they will be deep in the Amazonian basin of South America. We'll look forward to seeing them back at Hide-A-Way Hills next year. I think we'll be seeing more nesting kites in the Buckeye State in future years, too, as these wonderful raptors continue to expand their range.
Thanks once again to everyone who came out for Kite Day, and to all who worked hard to make the event possible.