We all have our share of memorable encountered with wildlife in our backyards. However, when my daughter called yesterday to relate what had just happened to her, I was amazed–it was unlike anything I had ever heard of before.
This wildlife encounter took place in one of the most unlikely places imaginable. She lives in a large subdivision in Columbia County just west of Augusta. In spite of the fact little wildlife habitat exists in this community; over the years she has been able to attract an amazing array of wild critters. In fact, I tease her over the fact that she often sees wildlife that rarely venture into my backyard located in the country.
It seems that around 11:00 a.m. on 3 July, as she was mowing her front yard she noticed that she was flushing both grasshoppers and dragonflies. Suddenly she saw the shadow of a large bird flying over her head. Looking up she was surprised to see a Mississippi kite flying back and forth. She had seen Mississippi kites flying high above her yard on a number of occasions. What made this event different was this bird was flying only fifteen feet or so above the lawn. The bird was so close she could peer into the bird’s eyes as well as see that the talon-tipped toes on its yellow feet spread wide-open ready to capture prey.
Some people would be unnerved to see a bird with a 44-inch wingspan flying so close to them. Such an experience might cause them to conjure up scenes from Alfred Hitchcock’s classic horror film, The Birds.
Never one to be afraid of wildlife, she simply wondered why the bird was flying so close to her. Then when to bird swooped down to catch an insect, she quickly realized that the Mississippi kite was actually hunting. Apparently, it noticed the large insects she was flushing with each pass of her lawnmower, and flew closer to take advantage of this unexpected opportunity.
Mississippi kites feed primarily on large insects such as dragonflies, grasshoppers, beetles, cicadas, bees, and moths. Small mammals, snakes, lizards, and birds are also eaten from time to time. Using their strong feet, Mississippi kites capture and eat their prey on the wing. However, they sometimes will even hunt from a perch or walk about on the ground trying to catch food.
In times past, Mississippi kites would feed on insects that took to the air as bison grazed prairie grazes. Nowadays they will follow livestock and mowing machines and take advantage of the insects they flush. However, until now, I had never heard of a Mississippi kite hunting above a person mowing their lawn.
If you have an open yard and live anywhere in Georgia’s Coastal Plain to just north of the Fall Line (the birds’ primary nesting range in Georgia), you just might look up one early summer day and see a Mississippi kite following you around the yard. If you do, don’t panic; just enjoy a truly rare and memorable wildlife encounter.