We are extremely fortunate to have a diversity of raptors (birds of prey) that are found throughout the year here in the Lowcountry. One bird that is actually pretty common, but most people haven’t seen is the Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippiensis). This graceful, soaring, and acrobatic bird is related to the hawks, but they can frequently be seen soaring and diving just overhead, especially over the golf course, pastures, and other open areas. They are a slate gray in color, with powdery white patches on the backs of their wings and on the nape of their neck. They are impressive with their flying skills, able to do somersaults, barrel roles and backward flips in midair in pursuit of their prey! They feed mainly on insects, such as dragonflies, grasshoppers, and other bugs, but will occasionally grab a snake. They can occur in large flocks over farm fields and are quite a help to the farmers, because many of the insects they eat are considered agricultural pests. It is absolutely breathtaking to watch these frequent fliers on the wing, as they catch their prey and devour it, all while flying! Occasionally, you can see swallow-tailed kites mixed in with them overhead, and together, put on a clinic on how to fly, soar, swoop, and dive.
Although most of our raptors, such as hawks and owls, are mostly permanent residents,Mississippikites summertime visitors called neotropical migrants, meaning that they migrate into our region in the summer and then leave and fly south for the winter. They nest here in the Lowcountry and raise their young before flying back to Central andSouth Americafor the winter.
Hey, I’ll be the first one to tell you that birds flying overhead can get pretty confusing. Trying to identify a hawk from an osprey from an eagle, etc., etc. can be a daunting task, but if you spend a little time trying to identify these birds, I can assure you, you’re going to be amazed at just how many different and unique birds you can see overhead, and hopefully, spot one of our kites and witness for yourself the aerial acrobatics of a Mississippi kite!