Wednesday, March 21, 2018

An Early Kite

On this sunny, cool morning in central Missouri, a friend and I headed down to Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area on the Missouri River floodplain.  For mid March, waterfowl were not abundant, represented primarily by Canada geese, mallards, northern shovelers, blue-winged teal and American coot; a few wood ducks and a pair of hooded mergansers were also encountered.  Shorebird sightings were limited to seven greater yellowlegs.  About 30 American white pelicans graced the floodplain and raptors were fairly common, including bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, American kestrels,  northern harriers and a lone merlin.

But the highlight of my visit occurred after my friend left and as I was driving out of the refuge.  Just before reaching the exit, I noticed a "white bird" perched in a grove of trees near the river.  Close examination with my binoculars revealed that its head, chest and abdomen were white (or very light gray) and that its back was a darker gray.  About the size of a peregrine falcon, the bird had no facial markings or streaking on it chest and abdomen.  I concluded it was a Mississippi kite, arriving ahead of its usual migration schedule.

Wintering in South America, Mississippi kites breed across the Southeastern U.S., northward through the central Mississippi Valley and on the Southern Plains, from Texas to Kansas; in recent years, they have been nesting here in Columbia, Missouri.  Often nesting in colonies, these graceful aerialists feast primarily on large, flying insects but also consume a variety of small reptiles, amphibians and songbirds.  According to eBird, Mississippi kites are rare in central Missouri on this date but I'm comfortable with my identification.