Monday, August 6, 2012

A trio of Mississippi Kites!

Photo: Dana Cornelisen 

Imagine Dana Cornelisen's shock and surprise when he looked into the trees shadowing his suburban Loveland, Ohio home and saw the scene above. Not one, nor two, but three Mississippi Kites!

Dana took this photo yesterday, August 5, the first day that he observed the kites. Click HERE for a brief YouTube video of the kites that Dana Made. We're still trying to figure out what the situation is with these birds. The two uppermost kites look to be adults (although someone said that two of the kites are subadults; I just can't see enough to tell with the upper right bird), and undoubtedly are a male/female pair. The bird with its back to us is a subadult, but from what I can tell it is not a recently fledged juvenile. If it were, it should be showing more white scalloping, buffy feather edgings, and traces of juvenile down. Plus, it would be rather early in the season to have a young bird this far along.

Mississippi Kites are known for their occasional deployment of "helper" birds. The helpers are juveniles from the previous season who hang around the nest of their parents the following season, and will even assist in feeding chicks by catching food. One study of several hundred pairs of kites in the core of their breeding range found that some 18% of the active nests had these juvenile helper kites assisting with activities. Perhaps this is the explanation for the third bird in Dana's photo.

This gorgeous raptor species was first documented as nesting in Ohio in 2007 in Hocking County, and birds have been found nesting there every successive year. The Hide-A-Way Hills nesting kites have garnered their fair share of fame, in part due to the "Kite Day" of the past two years. Read about the last one HERE. Melissa Krieger and Elizabeth vanBalen Delphia report that the H-A-W-H's kites are present this year, and probably nesting, but have moved to a different spot and are proving much more elusive than in year's past. I've written about Ohio's nesting Mississippi Kites numerous times, dating to the inaugural 2007 nesting; just type Mississippi Kite into the search box in the upper lefthand corner of this page and Blogger will pull them all up for you.

Good ole Google earth, showing the lay of the land of these new Cincinnati area kites. Note Lever Park and the reddish balloon towards the upper lefthand corner of the aerial; that's ground zero for these birds. The Little Miami River flows diagonally across the bottom righthand corner of the photo. The presence of this river is also good for nesting kites - they seem to have an affinity for river valleys. The Hocking County kites that have come to light were all in fairly close proximity to the Hocking River, a larger stream not dissimilar to the Little Miami.

It would be great if nesting could be confirmed for the Loveland Kites, and hopefully Dana and/or other birders will be able to locate the nest, or eventually fledglings that are being fed by the adults/helper. Heading to Lever Park and focusing on that area is probably the best strategy. The nest of a Mississippi Kites can be devilishly hard to find, even if you know about where it must be. It's often a tiny affair and can be high in a tree in the midst of other trees, and tucked right into the trunk. Finding conspicuous begging youngsters once they've fledged, high in a snag and exhorting their parents to bring more cicadas by issuing high pitched whistles, might be more likely.

Congratulations to Dana Cornelisen for a fabulous find, and for quickly sharing his discovery with the rest of the birding community. It is really great to watch these beautiful and agile raptors colonize (recolonize in my opinion) Ohio, and I'm confident that we'll see even more nesting kites turning up in coming years.

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