Raptor Identification

Ictinia mississippiensis

Mississippi Kite

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern
Raptor Population Index Assessment: 88% of sites stable
Conservation Concerns: Habitat Degradation
Group: Kite
Size: L 13-15″ / WS 29-33″


Mississippi Kites are distinctive in plumage, flight style, and foraging behavior. They are amazing aerialists, floating on the air similar to Swallow-tailed Kite twisting, turning, and swooping up and down as they catch flying insects. They are relatively common in the Southeast along local streams but never found in very dense nesting colonies. Their range is currently expanding north, with nesting pairs now as far as several states in New England and possibly into Ontario. Mississippi Kites are found nesting west of Colorado and Arizona and are seen rarely in southern California. They occupy a variety of habitats, but nests are almost always found in large, live deciduous trees. They nest mainly near water but also use shelterbelts with adjacent open fields on the southern Great Plains to Illinois, where they can be seen in fairly suburban areas with large trees.

Mississippi Kites often perch on prominent bare tree limbs in the morning, waiting for thermal development to start soaring and hunting. Once in the air, they may stay aloft for long periods with seeming ease. Mississippi Kites sometimes perch-hunt for small mammals, frogs, lizards, nestling birds, and other small animals. Mississippi Kites make a piercing 2-note whistle, with the 2nd note descending — “tsee-pheeuuww!” Juveniles make a begging “fseeeer.”


  • Perched, appear small, slim, and small-headed.
  • They are slimly built, with a slight body, long, pointed wings, and a long narrow-based tail that flares at the tip.
  • Similar in shape to Peregrine Falcon but lightly built with small heads, narrow-based wings, and a slimmer, square-cut, flared-tipped tail.


  • Direct flight is with deep, easy, fluid wing beats.
  • Soar frequently, holding wings flat or bowed.
  • Buoyant on the wing, cutting through the sky, twisting their wings and tail in pursuit of insects, which they capture with their talons.


  • Minor plumage differences in adult sexes, and three distinct plumages: adult, juvenile, and sub-adult.
  • Adult gray overall, with pale head (whiter on males), whitish secondaries and rufous highlighted primaries.
  • Juvenile heavily streaked below with barred flight feathers and banded tail.
  • Sub-adult is first spring/summer birds that have molted body feathers (now grayish like adult) but retain juvenile flight feathers.

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