Swallow-tailed Kites Need Your Help to Protect Them in Mississippi
Swallow-tailed kites are among the most striking birds in Mississippi with their contrasting black and white feathers and long, V-shaped tails.
Researchers have called for swallow-tailed kite sightings in Mississippi to be reported for several years, but this year there’s more public help in keeping an eye out for the birds.
“Anytime we know a nesting area, it’s important,” said Nick Winstead, an ornithologist at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science. “Monitoring is important because it helps us find where the birds are and work with landowners to protect those sites for at least this nesting season, if possible.”
In recent years, aerial surveys have been conducted to find the areas the birds were using. In addition, the public was invited to report sightings.
This year, the public will be the only eyes and ears of the museum.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have the funding for aerial surveys this year,” Winstead said.
How to report a sighting: Email the date, time, location, and number of birds to [email protected]
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Swallow-tailed kites need help
Swallow-tailed kites are state and federally protected raptors. They feed on insects and small vertebrates such as tree frogs and small snakes. Their wingspan can exceed 4 feet. They spend fall and winter in South America and spring and summer in Central America and the southeastern coastal states.
Their range was once much greater in North America, but a population decline coinciding with logging occurred about 100 years ago.
“They were in about 20 states historically in the eastern United States,” Winstead said. “Now they’re in about seven southeastern states. They’re a species that conservation needs.”
With improved habitat, the birds are recovering some of their historic range, but slowly because they are gregarious.
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“Given the social nature of these birds, they like to nest near other birds,” Winstead said. “Given this gregarious nature, they are very slow to reoccupy the areas they once occupied because there are no other kites there.”
Winstead said areas such as the lower Pearl and Pascagoula rivers are known breeding grounds, but in other parts of the state there are fewer bird sightings and reported nesting sites. Thus, reports are especially needed in central and northern Mississippi to protect nesting sites.
“Any reports of nests would be great, but if anyone sees a bird in central and northern Mississippi it would be good to know, especially if they see birds carrying food to a place or if they sees nesting grounds,” Winstead said. “We are getting fewer reports from central and northern Mississippi, so these reports are important to us.”
To report a sighting, record the day, time, exact location, and number of swallow-tailed kites sighted and email the information to Winstead at [email protected] Winstead said he can also be reached by phone at 601-576-6000.