bats at halloween
Photo by

Chris Davis; Macaulay Library

If you are walking, riding, running, picnicking or playing at the playground at Memorial Park in Ottumwa, you have the rare opportunity to spot a Mississippi Kite – and I don’t mean a kite in the shape of the state of Mississippi. I am talking about a bird of prey (aka hawk).

This hawk is a mix of gray and black with the head and part of the wings being a lighter gray to white. The tips of the wings and tail are black. They are larger than a crow, but not as large as a red-tailed hawk. They spend much time either sailing on the wind or flying. That means you will need to be looking up above the tree tops to have a better chance of spotting one. Kites are great aerialists, and can even catch dragonflies while in flight. They are not known to be found in flocks except during migration.

They seem to prefer hardwood forests, but will use savannahs, wooded river corridors, windbreak plantings, and even fragmented woodlands in city parks. They can become quite aggressive toward possible predators near their nests, and they view humans as possible predators. They have been known to dive-bomb those that get too close. They have increased their range westward with a little help. Ranchers and farmers have planted shelterbelts.

They may choose a nest location near a wasp nest. Some believe this is to help protect their young against predators that may climb the trees. They have also been known to build on squirrel nests. Nests have been seen just a few feet off the ground, and others as high as 115 feet. When building the nest, both male and female work together, and building may take a few weeks. The nest will contain loosely woven twigs and be ten to fourteen inches across. The cup of the nest will be lined with leaves. Here they will raise one to three young.

Besides dragonflies, they eat a variety of insects, frogs, lizards, snakes, small birds, small mammals and even bats. They hunt by soaring over woodlands, prairies, bodies of water and fields. When they find their prey, they extend one or both feet out to grab it – either from the air or from plants. They will even eat it while they fly (see photo above). It seems like a bad idea to take your eyes off the sky like that, but they must not run into any obstacles while eating and flying.

No matter where you choose to go, take a hike this weekend. Fall is almost here, and many changes will be taking place in the natural world in the months to come.

Photo by Chris Davis; Macaulay Library