One of my favorite days of the year is the day I see my first Mississippi kite return to the Panhandle of Texas from their wintering grounds. Kites are one of my favorite birds, in part, due to their amazing abilities to fly. I spent several hours yesterday in Palo Duro Canyon watching kites display their prowess in the air. It was breathtaking. Kites would ride air currents so high into the sky that they were no longer visible to the naked eye, and all without a flap of the wing. Shortly thereafter, they would appear several hundred feet above the ground, often interacting with each other. This was followed by a steep dive with wings folded against their side. I tried many times to get decent photos of this and have a few, but none I feel post-worthy. If you don’t have them in your lens as they start to dive you really have no chance of getting a shot of them at all because following a bird diving at what I estimate to be between 70 to 90 miles per hour is outside my skill set. Often, they would completely catch me by surprise and my first indication of their dive was a jet-like sound made by their aerodynamic form cutting a wedge through the air. I was simply in awe. My only disappointment was that I was unable to share this with you. After the dive, they would land in cottonwood trees along the river and call for a while then take to the air and repeat the process again. I watched about 6 series of this behavior.
At one point, a red-tailed hawk had the misfortune of flying by the kites and was rapidly driven away by the slighter but much more maneuverable kites.
At one point, a kite landed in the trees and called as I described earlier. This time, the bird was on the edge of the riparian woodland and I was able to photograph what I learned was a female. She sat in the tree and called and was joined by a second kite. This male quickly mounted the female to copulate but a third kite came in talons first and ruined the moment, knocking the would be mates off the branch.
I watch kites sore all summer and especially like to watch later in the summer when the adults and juveniles fill the skies over many of our towns. It is not uncommon to see 50 or more at a time. Watch them climb to great altitudes and dive down to tree top level. I hate to add human emotions to wild animals, but I can’t believe they don’t at least think “yahoooooo” as the point their heads earthward and build up speed. I wonder how many Gs they pull when the pull up to avoid collision with the ground. If I were to be reincarnated, I think I would be a Mississippi kite. I would definitely give out a call of joy as I ruled the skies above the towns throughout this region. I do believe I may be in love with this bird and I’m not afraid to admit it!