First Confirmed Nesting Mississippi Kite in Wisconsin
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Preface: Understandably, some birders may be upset that these birds were kept a secret. However, when I was asked to help search for the nest, I obliged under the veil that the location would not be given out until after the birds began their fall migration south, and even then, just the generic location of "Janesville area". This decision was made by the Atlas project coordinators and the DNR.
In August of 2015, a juvenile Mississippi Kite was found in Janesville, WI on the ground an unable to fly. Hoo's Woods Raptor Center was called, and the bird was retrieved soon after. At the time of retrieval, no one was sure what species of bird it was. It was a relatively small raptor, but it didn't fit with any of the typical species found in southern Wisconsin. After putting images online, Dianne Moller of Hoo's Woods was able to identify the bird as a Mississippi Kite. The ID of Mississippi Kite was a bit of a surprise at first as they had never previous nested in Wisconsin (and just because a juvenile was found doesn't guarantee nesting), they had, however, nested for the past several year in Rockford, IL just 30 miles to the south. While it wasn't clear if Mississippi Kites nested where the juvenile was found, it was relatively certain that a pair had likely nested somewhere in the area.
If one looks at a Mississippi Kite range map in a birding book or online, they'll likely see the main nesting area for the Mississippi Kite is from the southern plains of Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas eastward through the deep south. Looking at more recent Mississippi Kite observation maps on eBird, it's very clear that the bird has slowly expanded its range northward, especially along the Mississippi River valley and also along some smaller river valleys such as the Iowa, Cedar, and Des Moines River valleys as well as Rock River which runs through both Rockford and Janesville.
Fast forward a year to 2016, and the search was on for possible nesting Mississippi Kites in Janesville. About a half dozen birders in Rock County knew of the approximate location where the juvenile was found the year before and began searching for adults in the area. A pair of adults were eventually located soaring and hunting over Janesville in mid-summer! Yes! A pair of birds in the same area during nesting season likely meant they were nesting in the area. I was asked to help document the adult birds and search for the nest if possible. Finding the nest site proved to be a somewhat difficult task. Mississippi Kite nests are generally not as large as other raptors, and with dense foliage, it can be very difficult to see nests in trees. On top of that, Mississippi Kites don't dive from the sky straight toward the nest, they generally drop into the tree canopy then fly through the tree canopy to the nest making following a nesting adult almost impossible.
One day while driving in the area the kites were typically soaring above, I witnessed one of the birds fly low through the canopy behind my vehicle but did not see it emerge on the other side. I had to leave due to other obligations, but made a call of Aaron Boone and let him know the location where I saw the bird fly into the tree canopy and not emerge on the other side. Later that day I was going to meet Aaron Boone and Aaron Haycraft to try and triangulate where the birds were diving into the canopy in the hopes of finding the nest. That wasn't necessary. About 30 minutes before I returned later in the day, I received a text from Aaron Boone that said "We found the nest!". Sure enough, they found the nest in the exact location where I saw the adult bird fly into the tree canopy and not emerge earlier in the day.
Over the next few weeks, I would observe the nestling grow from a little white ball of fluff, to a beautifully streaked brown/gray fledgling. Most of that feather growth happened in a 12-day period! The top image was taken on August 3rd, and the bottom image was taken on August 15th. Wow!
Keywords: Birding, Birds, Breeding, Illinois, Janesville, Mississippi Kite, Nesting, Rockford, WBBA, Wisconsin, fledgling
Wonderful photos of a most interesting raptor. Keep up the good work!
Fantastic discovery and beautiful photos and video. Congratulations!
And thank you.
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