The Annals of Country Life: Mississippi kites

February 20th, 2017 17 Comments

Still in my pajamas (flannel, Black Watch pattern, from LL Bean) this morning, I glanced out the bedroom window and saw two raptors of a kind I had never seen before, sitting together in a cottonwood tree not thirty feet from the house. I am not a bird watcher in the sense of going out with binoculars and book specifically for that purpose, but I do like to identify the birds I see.

Easier said than done. Yes, physically the birds were clearly Mississippi kites. After that, the consensus is that Jameson must have been nipping at the whisky far too early in the day. As the name implies, this is not a bird one might expect to see in the southern Sierras at any time of the year, let alone in February.

I went to many sources, looking for solid, calcified, irrefutable information, but apparently bird-watching is like just about everything else in the world these days: the answer varies depending on who you ask.

Most of the sources I checked claim the farthest West the Mississippi kite is ever seen is in isolated colonies in New Mexico and Arizona, but even this does not include either their winter range (outside the U.S.) or their migratory range (late March to early April), both of which would seem to kind of rule out California in February.

I found a site that said the Mississippi kite was expanding its range, but then went on to clarify that by specifically narrowing the expansion northward in eastern states only. One site that allowed me to put in the identifying characteristics of the birds I saw, along with where, geographically, I had seen them, and the time year I had seen them, was unambiguous about the species, and expressed no doubt that I had seen them in California. Another site with the same format was equally unambiguous about the fact that I must have been nipping at the whisky. Yet another site caught my attention because it stated that the size was “larger than a rock pigeon” and rock pigeons is what I first thought I was looking at.

So, there you have it. If anyone has any concrete evidence of Mississippi kites breeding, migrating, wintering, or making permanent homes in California, I would love to hear from you. Are they casual visitors, tourists who come to see the sights, take the rides at Disneyland, look at the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, gaze in awe at the giant Sequoias, shake their heads over urban sprawl or this year’s flooding? Or is this a brand new, hitherto unrecorded phenomenon related to global warming or manifest destiny or something else entirely?

Any bird experts out there?

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  1. Anonymous says:

    That does kind look like a pigeon. Maybe you should ask Steven Bodio. He seems to know a lot about birds.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Weather patterns influence migration (both location/paths and time of year). I think this was an Accidental.

  3. Anonymous says:

    There is always the possibility it may become more common in the future.

  4. Anonymous says:

    What did he taste like?

  5. Anonymous says:

    My cousin’s husband is a falconer in Southern California. They have a business of breeding specialty hybrids and Alpamattos ( I have no idea how to accurately spell that and Google is no help). I’ll send him the link to this page and see if he has any ideas.


  6. Anonymous says:

    Good luck with the investigation on these birds. It would be nice to have a few feathered friends around to keep things interesting.

    On another note, I have been trying to get a decent price to read your new book “Dancing with the Dead” but $500 is the going price. Ouch.

    Carla In California

    P.S. I’m thinking about listening to “Sea Change” by the other JP, James Powlik. I enjoyed the sample given on Amazon, but I noted the length was over five hours. Wow. I guess I could make myself a cup of hot cocoa and a snack and just sit back and listen. Ya think?

    • Ouch is right. I have no idea who put that up for sale because the book has not yet been officially released. I don’t even have a copy yet. It’s official release date is March 1 and I will try to post something about it at that time.
      I’m also surprised to hear “Sea Change” is five hours long. I remember recording it, but if it were a five hour book, if would have taken me a lot longer to record. Maybe they added a lot of music. A lot of music.

      • Anonymous says:


        I also noticed what Carla says about your book on Amazon. There are two “used” copies from the same seller for $500. It is a major seller of books on Amazon. Since it hasn’t been officially released yet I wonder if these are preview copies and it seems questionable they could be sold legally like that.


      • Anonymous says:

        I thought this was the Robert Parker book “Sea Change” for the Jesse Stone series. I adore Tom Selleck. Anyway, I clicked on the sample (a promo for Audible by Amazon) and enjoyed the brief narration. The last good narrations I’ve heard were from the late Efrem Zimbalist and Charlton Heston. I’ll get my hot cocoa and caramel popcorn ready! 😉

        Carla In California

        P.S. I’m debating whether to order the Kindle Edition of “Dancing with the Dead” or the hardcover. Thoughts anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

    • Anonymous says:

      I also noticed that on Amazon. Some booksellers often ask insanely high prices that are way higher than what anyone else asks. I guess they must find someone to overpay for something at least once.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I thought this could be kind of hawk. I guess it is the “Elanus caeruleus”
    Sue from Cologne

  8. Anonymous says:

    This what I found . Breeds from southern Arizona, central New Mexico, southeastern Colorado, north-central Kansas, southern Missouri, southern Illinois, southern Indiana, western Kentucky, western Tennessee, northwestern Mississippi, the coastal plain of the Gulf states, South Carolina and (probably) North Carolina south to southern New Mexico, Texas, the Gulf Coast, and north-central Florida; the range has expanded along most of its margins in recent years (AOU 1998). Since the AOU account was published, there has been a dramatic expansion, particularly eastward and northward, in the breeding range of the Mississippi Kite, and nesting reports for states (e.g., Ohio, Indiana, New Hampshire, Connecticut) where it was previously unknown to breed have become an almost annual occurrence. Formerly bred north to central Colorado and Iowa, and wandering individuals turn up regularly in more northern states and California. .

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