Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Mississippi Kite - Ictinia mississippiensis
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General Comments Mississippi Kites are a major success story in North Carolina and elsewhere in their breeding range, which has been expanding northward not only along the East Coast but also into the Great Plains and in the Southwest. Exactly why it has spread is not obvious; though wetlands such as beaver ponds have been increasing, mature forested swamps and bottomlands have declined owing to repeated logging. Fortunately, the kites feed on large insects such as cicadas and dragonflies high over wetland forests, and they need only a few tall trees, even in town parks, for a nesting site. In fact, birds nest in towns such as Roanoke Rapids, Goldsboro, Rocky Mount, and Laurinburg! The first nesting in the state came only in the 1970's; surprisingly, the only known Piedmont nesting sites (so far) are well inland at Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Charlotte, and Raleigh. Mississippi Kites show a strong preference for brownwater river floodplains -- Roanoke, Tar, Neuse, Cape Fear, and even the Pee Dee along the Fall Line; birds are normally seen chasing insects over forests and floodplain fields not far from the rivers. Presumably, suitable prey items are not nearly as common over blackwater rivers such as the Northeast Cape Fear, Black, Waccamaw, and Lumber; in fact, the species isn't known to nest along a few major blackwater rivers in the Coastal Plain. In the past few years, post-breeding numbers of both Mississippi and Swallow-tailed kites have appeared in the mountains and western Piedmont; most of these are immature birds.
Breeding Status Breeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S3B
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Summer resident, breeding; increasing in recent decades. Occurs primarily close to brownwater rivers, and most numerous along the upper half of the Roanoke River and portions of the lower Cape Fear River. Locally fairly common to common along such rivers, but rare over most of the province, especially on coastal islands and in the extreme northeast (including Tidewater), both of which are not known to be nesting areas. The breeding range has been expanding in recent years, now nesting practically west to the Fall Line -- as far west as Roanoke Rapids, Rocky Mount, Clayton, Howell Woods below Smithfield, Lillington, and Rockingham. Mainly late Apr to mid-Oct, though scarce after late Sep; occasionally seen in early and mid-Apr. Peak counts: 80+ along Governors Road (Brunswick), 15 May 2021; 60, Mesic (Pamlico), 29 Sep 1984, after a hurricane; 35, northern Brunswick, 8 Jun 2014.
Piedmont Increasing stray or overshooting migrant, as well as a post-breeding visitor; breeds at a few local sites. Has nested at Greensboro from 2004 through 2018, has nested recently at Charlotte and in Pittsboro (Chatham), and confirmed in Raleigh in 2020. Two adults tending to an unfledged juvenile at a nest in Winston-Salem (Forsyth) on 23 Jul 2023 extends the breeding range slightly to the west. Rare but increasing visitor in the eastern portion (west to Orange and Anson), and undoubtedly will be found nesting in additional places in upcoming years. Very rare in the northwestern quarter of the province. The species does feed somewhat regularly along the lower Pee Dee River along the Richmond-Anson line, which is marginally in the Piedmont. Whether birds nest along the river or not is unclear, but the species has nested to the east in Rockingham (in the Coastal Plain) and might now be nesting in Anson. Oddly, sizable flocks have been seen in late summer over a few fields in McDowell since 2012. Primarily from late Apr to early Oct, though recorded as early as 25 Mar and as late as 23 Oct. Peak counts: 30, in McDowell, 10 Aug 2016; 30, southeastern Montgomery, 31 Jul 2021; 25 in McDowell, 23 Aug 2012; 23 in the Greensboro area, 5 Jul 2015; 23 in McDowell, 21 Aug 2017; 20+ in McDowell, 26 Aug 2015.
Mountains Rare migrant/visitor (increasing) in the southern mountains (about 28 records). Very rare north of Henderson and Haywood, with only seven known reports: one, Mahogany Rock overlook (Alleghany/Wilkes), 7 Oct 1995; one in Watauga, 9 May 2014; one, Mahogany Rock overlook, 24 Sep 2016; four at that overlook, 9 Sep 2017; one in Watauga, 10 Sep 2017; a remarkable 14 in flight over Valle Crucis (Watauga), 1 May 2022; and one at a remarkably high elevation of 5800 feet over Round Bald (Mitchell), 31 Aug 2022. Mainly late Apr to mid-May, and Aug into mid-Sep. Peak counts: 50, over the Super Sod Farm along Hooper Lane (Henderson), 24 Aug 2019; 22, where NC 191 crosses the French Broad River (Henderson), 22 Aug 2016; 14 (see above), Watauga, 1 May 2022.
Finding Tips Visiting the Lock and Dam #1 area or the NC 11 bridge over the Cape Fear River has been consistently good for seeing the species in numbers, in recent years, during the warmer months. A boat trip along the upper half of the Roanoke River usually produces a few birds, as can a visit to Howell Woods or to the Richardson Bridge Road where it crosses the Neuse River in Johnston. Arrington Bridge Road near the Goldsboro waste treatment plant can also be good. In the past few years, a flock has been seen in late summer over agricultural fields near Exit 75 on I-40 in McDowell.
Attribution LeGrand[2024-02-10], LeGrand[2023-10-20], LeGrand[2023-03-21]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.
NC Breeding Season Map
Map depicts assumed breeding season abundance for the species.