Mississippi Kite – The Graceful Gray Raptor
Article and Photos by Laurie Sheppard
Adult Missippi Kite
As winter turns to spring, we all look forward to neotropical migrants returning to Grayson County and the refuge. Some are tiny and elusive, just passing through the area. Others, like Dickcissels, make their presence known singing loudly in the fields. One summer visitor that catches many people’s attention is the Mississippi Kite, soaring and diving over Wildlife Drive in groups of four or more, hunting for their favorite prey – insects!
Mississippi Kites are medium-sized birds of prey. They are long-distant migrants, wintering deep in subtropical South America and breeding primarily in the southern great plains of the United States. Grayson County is at the eastern edge of their primary breeding area, but a few pairs travel much further and stake out their own favored locations. Successful nests have been documented as far north as New Hampshire and Ohio. However, most nesting pairs fledge their young in north central Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Kansas.
Mating pair of Mississippi Kites
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Mississippi Kites are monogamous, forming breeding pairs soon after arriving at their nesting sites. They may reuse old nests or create new ones from twigs and green leaves. Nests are often built 20-35 feet up in tall trees but on the plains, they may be as low as 6 feet. The nests are not always tightly formed and sometimes are lost to wind and weather. The adults continue to add leaves to the nest throughout the season. Both parents tend their eggs and feed their hatchlings. The young leave the nest in 4-5 weeks. They stay with their parents who continue to feed them for another 3-4 weeks, teaching them to hunt for themselves, and the family remains together even longer. These birds are social rather than territorial and often nest near other pairs in loose colonies.
Juvenile Mississippi Kites
The primary feeding behavior of Mississippi Kites is unlike most other raptors. Rather than hunting small ground-dwelling mammals and amphibians from a perch on a tree or high in the sky, these birds usually soar relatively low over an open field catching large insects in their talons. They eat grasshoppers, cicadas, and other insects while in flight, reaching forward with their feet to consume the bug, all while continuing to hunt for their next morsel. They may also fly over herds of cattle or horses, grabbing the insects that are stirred up by the larger animals. Occasionally, they will eat small birds, mammals, or lizards, too.
Eating in the air
During the early part of the twentieth century, Mississippi Kite numbers began to fall, but by the 1950s they had begun to rebound, partly due to adaptation to urban surroundings, but likely also aided by the human practice of planting windbreaks around crop fields. Insects make up a huge part of the Mississippi Kite’s diet, and those windbreaks allow them to build nests close to a ready food source. Their presence near the crops is beneficial for the landowner as well, since the Mississippi Kites help control the number of destructive insects and other pests.
Although not an endangered species, the Mississippi Kite is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which specifies that birds, their eggs, and their nests must not be tampered
with. Recently a tree was removed in a local neighborhood at the request of the homeowner, and as a result, a Mississippi Kite nest with one tiny hatchling was brought down. It was relocated to a nearby tree but unfortunately, the little bird did not survive. It’s a sad reminder that there are consequences from human interference in the nesting and fledging of wild birds.
Grayson County’s Mississippi Kites will begin leaving the area over the next two months, so enjoy them while you can, but don’t worry. They’ll return again next spring. You can start watching for them around the first of May each year.
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Giant swallowtail by Spencer Beard
Gulf fritillary by Brenda Edwards
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Grasshopper by Pam Rendall-Bass
Were YOU There?
All are welcome as a participant or a volunteer--A good time is had by all!
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Save the Date: October 14 is the Refuge Roundup!
Activities for the whole family!
The Junior and Advanced Ranger Programs
Bring the kids on out to the refuge for a day of learning about nature with our newly updated Junior and Advanced Ranger Booklets. Download them here and, when completed, come on in to the Visitor Center where the kids can say their pledge and receive their Junior Ranger badge!
The Junior Ranger Pledge
As a Junior Ranger at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge,
I pledge to protect outdoor creatures small, big and huge.
To keep the water, air and land clean.
To make enjoying nature a routine.
I will share my new skills with family and friends.
When people and nature work together, everybody wins!
The Photo Club: Super Moon Photography Field Trip
Join us for a sunset and evening photo shoot at Hagerman NWR. This shoot will include sunset shots across the water and moonrise with the August 1st super moon. We will have permission to stay in the refuge after dark and will have opportunity to try out some light painting and other low exposure shots.
This event is limited to FOHNWR Nature Photography Club members only. Registration is not required. Click here to become a member of Friends of Hagerman and select a membership with Photo Club.
This shoot is weather permitting so please check back within 48 hours of the event for updates.
8:00pm. Meet at the 1st pad on Plover Drive (with the 2 pumpjacks). We will be there for sunset photos across the water. Sunset is predicted at 8:27pm.
8:57pm Moonrise. We should have many options to photograph the moon from the first and second pads as it rises. We can also try light painting on the pumpjacks or other long exposure shots.
What to wear/bring: Hiking shoes, insect repellent, water, camera, and photography equipment. Tripod and flashlights recommended for the night/light painting shots. If you have any glowsticks or laser pointers those can also be fun for night shots.
Parking. Click for a Refuge Map. If you are able to walk a short distance, park on Wildlife Drive and then walk up Plover Road to the pads. There are not many spaces to park cars on the pads on Plover Drive. Please be aware that Plover Drive is gravel and driving too close to the pads will create dust and may interfere with people that have setup their cameras and equipment. Because of limited parking space, we will be utilizing the van which will leave the Visitor Center at 7:45pm.
For questions about this field trip, contact:
Field Trip Leader, Shawn Stone
For questions about the photo club, contact:
Photo Club Leader, Lisa Wilkins
In the event of any last minute changes to this event, such as cancellation due to bad weather, the FOH NWR website and Friends of Hagerman NWR Nature Photography Group on Facebook will be updated as soon as possible.
Friends of Hagerman NWR Annual Nature Photo Contest
Every year in September, the Friends of Hagerman Photo Club sponsors a nature-themed photo contest. For a small fee per photo, photographers may enter as many photos as they wish.
All photographers are invited to participate in the contest, regardless of age or skill level. Divisions include Beginner and Intermediate/Advanced: all photographers, including youth, are welcome!
Ribbons will be awarded for First, Second, and Third place in each of four categories and in both divisions (Beginner and Advanced/Intermediate). In addition, a cash prize will be awarded for First Place in each category, and the photos judged as “Best of Show” and “Youth Best in Show”. Winners will be determined by a panel of judges, who will review the submitted photos without reference to entrant name.
Winners’ photographs will be displayed at the Refuge Visitor Center and published on the Friends of Hagerman website, Facebook page and other venues. The Nature Photo Contest Committee will coordinate and conduct the contest for the Refuge and the Friends of Hagerman NWR.
The 2023 Friends of Hagerman Online Auction
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The Friends of Hagerman Board of Directors
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Birding with Jack: Updated, Weekly Census Results
Master Naturalist Jack Chiles, Mike Petrick and Dr. Wayne Meyer
Each Tuesday a team of experienced birders, including Master Naturalist Jack Chiles, traverse 35 miles of refuge roads and hiking trails, documenting every bird they encounter. This Bird Census is reported to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology for use in research, and each week we will bring you a link to their actual bird count, and a summary of their adventures.
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Five Livestreamed Bluebirds Successfully Fledged
The first Eastern Bluebird nest livestreamed in the visitor center was a huge success! All five nestlings made their way safely into the world July 21 - 22, and visitors to the visitor center enjoyed watching their progress.
Thank you Gene and Nancy Cushion and John Van Bebber for making this possible!
Watch for the 2023 Nestbox summary in next month's Featherless Flyer!
Butterfly Garden Walks
Registration is not necessary
Pipevine Swallowtail by Laurie Sheppard
Come and learn how to identify the birds of North Texas while enjoying the beautiful sunrise over Lake Texoma! Modeled after Cornell's national "Big Sit" event, a group of dedicated birders invite you to join them at sunrise to conduct a bird count as multiple species fly to the water and the surrounding land to feed. Leaders will bring spotting scopes and will provide tips for identification of the many species you will see.
This event lasts a couple of hours, but all are welcome to come and go as they please. Participants are advised to bring a chair, binoculars and water.
The First Saturday of every month, beginning 30 minutes before sunrise.
Location: H Pad, Sadler, Texas 76264 (H Pad is in Sadler, but it is part of the refuge) GPS Coordinates: 33.734961, -96.780582
Photo by Laurie Sheppard
Early Bird Walk with Jack Chiles
Early Bird Walks have been cancelled until cooler weather.
Second Saturday: Kim Snipes' Prehistoric Grayson County Presented by Wayne Meyer
Saturday, August 12 at 10:00 AM in the Visitor Center
Grayson County is well-known for its rich fossil deposits. In this talk, which Kim presented to the Grayson County Historical Society and to the Natural History Museum of Grayson County we look at how Grayson County got to be such a rich depository and what species are most well-known. We also speculate on some other organisms that almost certainly were present but which have not yet been found. Lastly we discuss the end of the age of dinosaurs.
Kim Snipes was an adjunct lecturer and safety officer for the biology department at Austin College. She died of cancer in November 2022, five years after losing her vision. She continued to teach and serve students almost until the very end. Her husband, Wayne Meyer will be presenting her talk in her memory.
Future Second Saturday Programs
Future Refuge Rocks Programs
Puddles' Craft Corner
Hop on Over to the Frog Pond!
By Cindy Steele, Master Naturalist
Welcome back to Puddles’ Craft Corner! It’s a warm summer evening and the bugs are floating around the pond. All of a sudden, as it starts to get dark, you start to hear those familiar sounds of a summer evening…frogs! All at once, they’re everywhere…all around you. The sound is almost deafening. As most frogs are nocturnal animals, their unmistakable concerts occur throughout the night. The frogs can seem to compete with one another for a slot in the stream of sound waves. Every second is filled with calls and signals, mainly for the purpose of finding a mate. In almost all frog species, only males call. In fact, that noise you hear in your backyard pond, local creek or lake is a sweet serenade- male frogs calling to attract female frogs.
They hop, they jump, some of them stick to windows - frogs! Frogs come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors, and can be found almost anywhere in the world. Add to that one of the most interesting life cycles on earth, and it's no wonder that people everywhere are...
Register for a Tram Tour Today!
Do You Like to Work Outside? The Refuge Needs You!
It takes a lot of people to have a beautiful garden!
The Wednesday Garden Team
Love to work with native plants and meet other gardeners? Come and help us add plants, weed and mulch our beautiful butterfly garden. Garden Team volunteers get first dibs on thinned native plants as well as access to seeds and cuttings for propagation.
Gardeners meet on most Wednesdays, but times vary. Contact Us to subscribe to the volunteer garden team weekly email. Provide own tools and gloves. Minimum age 18, or 16 if accompanied by parent/volunteer.
Mowing and Refuge Beautification: The Work Crew
Do you enjoy working outside, mowing, sprucing up hiking trails, trimming and removing brush and general cleanup? Show your love for nature by joining the Outdoor Crew at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge. Outdoor Crew volunteers meet on the First Tuesday and Fourth Saturday of every month.
Contact Us for exact times, dates and other details about joining the volunteer Work Crew.
Visitor Center Volunteers Needed!
Do you enjoy meeting all kinds of people from all over the world, and like-minded people in our area? If yes, consider joining our team of Visitor Center Volunteers. You will greet refuge guests, distribute maps and other refuge information, and make sales in the gift shop.
Shifts available every day of the week: Monday through Saturday 9 AM to 12:30 PM and 12:30 to 4:00 PM, Sunday 1:00 to 5:00 PM. Training is provided. Contact Us if interested.
To Our Contributors:
Laurie Sheppard, Jack Chiles, Cindy Steele
Refuge Manager: Kathy Whaley
Deputy Refuge Manager: Paul Balkenbush
Visitor Services Manager: Spencer BeardEditors: Patricia Crain, Laurie Sheppard
Friends of Hagerman NWR Foundation
6465 Refuge Road, Sherman, TX 75092
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Special thanks to Nancy Miller for the amazing photo of the Visitor Center
See you at the refuge!