Sunday, June 29, 2008

Rare Kites Making Home At Houndslake

An Aiken resident of Houndslake Country Club called in a sighting of a Mississippi kite near the sixth hole of the golf course.

This attractive hawk is seen only occasionally in the Central Savannah River Area, though it is a common to uncommon summer resident along the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. When one is observed, usually there are about half a dozen or more about, as is the case in this report.

These kites at Houndlake have found a perfect kite habitat; borders of deep woods, with tall oaks, pines, sweet gums and elms aside meadows filled with large insects not far from creeks and lakes.

Measuring 14 inches from the tip of its pale gray head to the tip of the square black tail, it has a wingspan of 36 inches. Its aerial flight is spectacular. Swallow-like, it soars in great circles and hovers in the air. They play at skydiving. These amazing feathered fliers twist and turn in the air. They plunge earthward, then rocket skyward again with speed and grace, circling and floating high in the air.

Could it be possible that the Houndslake kites are nesting in some tall tree at the edge of the woods? Oaks, elms, hack berries and sweet gum seem to be their favorite trees.

If a kite nest is found, and it is low enough in the tree, check for a green-leaf lining. A green-leaf lining is a good identification point. Nesting is usually under way by the middle of May.

The rather small twig, leaf and moss nest is cradle to the two bluish-white eggs which require a 31 to 32 day incubation period. This would put the hatching by the middle of June.

Fledglings don't leave the nest for another four weeks or so. With this schedule, the young could possibly be in the nest at this time.

This kite is most aggressive in the defense of the nest. It has been known to attack the climber, diving at him repeatedly and threatening to strike him. Be cautious if you find a nest. Observe it from a distance with glasses.

Feeding almost exclusively on larger insects such as cicadas, locusts, grasshoppers, crickets, katydids, dragonflies and large beetles, this hawk is most beneficial to man. Small snakes, lizards and frogs are sometimes eaten. These stunning birds feed on the wing. The insect is grasped in the claws and eaten in the air.

By the middle of August these birds begin preparing for their southward migration and put on migration fat. By the first days of September, they usually vanish from the area.

The kite is in the hawk family. To most people a hawk is a more or less savage big bird that eats chickens, birds and small animals. Most hawks, however, are not like this and are beneficial to man. Not only is the Mississippi kite beneficial, but adds grace and beauty to the sky with its aerial ballet.

When you see these big birds, stop for a little while and observe. You'll be glad you did!

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