Kites are small birds of prey that are known for their amazing ability to fly into the wind and hover, which is known as kiting. They spend a lot of time soaring looking for prey, so looking up is a great way to spot them, even on car journeys.
There are 6 species of kites in Texas that have been spotted and they are the Mississippi Kite, White-tailed Kite, Swallow-tailed Kite, Hook-billed Kite, Snail Kite, and the Double-toothed Kite. However, Snail Kites and Double-toothed Kites are accidental species here.
Kites can be found worldwide but are more in warmer regions. In North America, they are found mostly in southern states.
6 Types Of Kites Texas
1. Mississippi Kite
Mississippi Kites breed in Texas but some are also spotted in the southwest of the state during migration. They are recorded in 8% of summer checklists submitted by bird watchers for the state.
Mississippi Kites are small and slender birds of prey. They have light gray heads, red eyes with a dark eye patch in front, and small, strongly hooked dark bills.
Their underparts are light gray while their upperparts are dark gray. Their primary wings are dark gray, their secondary wings are white, and wingtips are black. They have long, dark tails and red legs and feet.
Male and female Mississippi Kites look similar except that males are slightly paler than females. Juveniles have heavily streaked brown and white bellies, heavily mottled wings, and long, banded tails.
- Ictinia mississippiensis
- Length: 13 – 17 in (33 – 43 cm)
- Weight: 12.6 oz (357 g)
- Wingspan: 34 – 37 in (86 – 94 cm)
Mississippi Kites breed in southern and eastern United States and migrate to South America, mainly Argentina, Paraguay, Uraguay, and southern Brazil.
You can find Mississippi Kites in small woodland forests in the prairies, dense old-growth hardwood forests, and more recently, in tree-lined areas like windbreaks, shelterbelts, city parks, golf courses, and other urban areas.
It is best to keep your sights above the trees for they love to sail on the wind and float in the air. In cityscapes, they’re likely to perch on tall buildings.
Most of the time, Mississippi Kites forage from the air and catch their prey and eat them while in flight. They capture medium to large-sized insects like grasshoppers, beetles, cicadas, and dragonflies.
They also hunt from their perch in trees and snag snakes, turtles, small birds, lizards, frogs, and fish. Sometimes, they hang around bison, horses, deer, and people and snatch whatever insects are flushed out by their activities.
Mississippi Kite Call:
Nests of Mississippi Kites are built on most types of trees. They can use tree branches that are a few feet off the ground or even as high as 115 feet up. They can build them on their own using twigs, leaves, and moss or they can re-use old, abandoned nests by other birds or even squirrels.
Both adults build the nest together and the female lays one to three eggs in it. They both take the time to incubate the eggs for about twenty-nine to thirty-two days. Mississippi Kites usually nest in colonies and will sometimes accept help with the nest from a one-year-old bird.
They’re also very protective of their nest and will attack anyone, people and animals alike when they get too close.
Fun Fact: Mississippi Kites are more successful at producing offspring in their urban habitats because there are fewer predators there than in forests and woodlands.
2. White-tailed Kite
White-tailed Kites do not migrate and although they are spotted all year in Texas, they are most common from mid-September to April. They are recorded in 2% of winter checklists.
White-tailed kites are small graceful raptors with white faces and underparts and dark gray wings.
White-tailed kites are small and narrow with white faces and underparts. Adults look similar. Their eyes are red and their hooked bills are black. Their wings are gray with black patches on their shoulders. Underneath, their wings are white and gray. Their tails are short, square, and pale gray.
Juveniles have a reddish-brown coloring on their crowns and breasts, but they have similar white faces, dark shoulders, and gray wings as the adults.
- Elanus leucurus
- Length: 15 – 17 in (38 – 43 cm)
- Weight: 12 oz (340 g)
- Wingspan: 40 – 42 in (102 – 107 cm)
White-tailed Kites are resident all year in southern US states and along the Pacific Coast.
You can find White-tailed Kites within a limited range in the United States. They are usually in open savannahs, desert grasslands, cultivated fields, and partially cleared lands.
During the non-breeding season, it’s easy to spot them since they roost in groups communally on trees and tall shrubs at the edge of grasslands.
White-tailed Kites’ usual meal involves rodents, like voles, field mice, and gophers, and may include small birds, snakes, lizards, and frogs. They will also catch flying insects like grasshoppers, crickets, and beetles, as they’re flying.
When hunting, White-tailed Kites are noted for their hovering motion above ground before they swoop in to grab their prey with their talons.
White-tailed Kite Call:
Nests of White-tailed Kites are usually made of thin twigs and built high atop tall trees, about ten to one hundred sixty feet tall. The male brings the twigs, grass, hay, and leaves and the female builds them.
She will then lay about four eggs and incubates them for a month. She is fed by the male during this time.
Fun Fact: White-tailed Kites hover in one position while hunting by facing into the wind and fluttering their wings – this is known as ‘kiting’.
3. Swallow-tailed Kite
Swallow-tailed Kites are usually found in the east of Texas during the breeding season and migration.
Swallow-tailed Kites are large but slender birds of prey that are most often seen hovering in the skies with their distinctive forked tail.
Males and females look similar and have white heads and underparts and black bills, flight feathers, tails, and feet. Their underwings are both black and white. Their long, forked tails resemble a swallow’s hence the name “swallow-tailed”.
Juveniles are paler in comparison and their tails are not that deeply forked.
- Elanoides forficatus
- Length: 19 – 25 in (48 – 64 cm)
- Weight: 15.6 oz (442 g)
- Wingspan: 45 – 50 in (114 – 127 cm)
Swallow-tailed Kites are predominantly resident in South America but they breed around the Gulf Coast of the United States.
You can find Swallow-tailed Kites in swamps, marshes, and humid, lowland forests. When nesting, look for them in tall trees around open areas with an abundance of small prey to feed their young.
Swallow-tailed Kites almost always spend their time in flight so it’s best to look skyward when looking for them. Also, summer is the best time to see them since they migrate to South America for the winter.
Swallow-tailed Kites are graceful, acrobatic hunters and they usually catch their prey mid-air.
Insects like dragonflies, cicadas, wasps, bees, crickets, and beetles are their primary food. They also eat small snakes, frogs, lizards, and small birds when flying in from the treetops.
They eat their prey immediately during their flight. When catching prey to feed their mates and their young, they will usually carry the food item with their feet and then transfer it to their beaks to give to the female.
Swallow-tailed Kite Call:
Nests of Swallow-tailed Kites are often concealed by foliage in the tallest of trees in the forest. Both adults build a new nest each year and they bring materials like sticks, lichens, and moss to the nesting site. Other times, they may repair and reuse their old nesting site.
The female lays one to three eggs and incubation takes twenty-four to twenty-eight days. Not all young survive since sometimes the eldest chick will kill the younger, smaller sibling, particularly if there’s not enough food.
Fun Fact: Swallow-tailed Kites are famous for their aerial acrobatics and they twist, turn, roll and dive whilst flicking their forked tail in pursuit of prey.
4. Hook-billed Kite
Hook-billed Kites are recognized as regularly occurring in Texas and have been spotted along the southern borders of the state all year.
Hook-billed Kites are distinctive birds of prey because of their parrot-like, hooked bills. Males are generally gray all over, particularly on their heads, backs, and wings.
Their eyes are white with a pale green eyering and they have an orange patch above their green lores (the bare skin in front of their eyes). Their breasts are gray too but have varying degrees of white barring. Their tails are black with two broad white bands.
Females share similar head characteristics as males. However, they are mostly brown on their upperparts but rufous (reddish) with white barring on their breasts. They also have an orange-brown collar. Their tails are also rufous with two dark-brown bands.
Juveniles are dark brown above, and white with blackish barring on the underparts. Their tails show three to four bars instead of two.
The Hooked-bill Kites have a dark morph that is black with a broad white tail band.
- Chondrohierax uncinatus
- Length: 16 – 18 in (41 – 46 cm)
- Weight: 9.8 oz (278 g)
- Wingspan: 34 – 38 in (86 – 97 cm)
Hooked-bill Kites are resident all year in Central and South America down to southern Brazil and they have also wandered into the southern United States.
You can find Hooked-bill Kites in lowland rainforests, second-growth and disturbed forests, forest edges, and clearings. They also frequent wooded streams and dry coastal forests. They may go where their favorite tree snails are, moving from one location to another depending on the abundance of their food.
Hooked-bill Kites’ favorite food are tree snails. They jump from tree limb to tree limb in search of them. Once they find one, they snatch it from the tree with their bill, insert their hooked bill into the shell, and then crack it open.
They will do almost anything to get that snail, even catching it in flight or hanging upside down from branches to reach it. Aside from tree snails, they also eat, insects, crabs, frogs, and salamanders.
Hooked-bill Kite Call:
Nests of Hooked-bill Kites are usually small and messy nests made of sticks and twigs. Hooked-bill Kites set them on branches of trees about five meters to twenty-five meters above the ground.
The female lays one to three eggs and incubation is done within thirty-five days mostly by the female while the male supports her with food. Both parents care for their young for as long as forty days until they’re ready to fly.
Fun Fact: Hooked-bill Kites have varying sizes of bills. Their bills are indicative of the size of the tree snails that they consume. Small bills eat small snails and vice versa.
5. Snail Kite
Snail Kites are considered rare or accidental species in Texas but they were spotted around Lake Somerville State Park in 2022.
Snail Kites are named for their primary prey, apple snails. Male Snail Kites have dark gray bodies, red eyes, specially-hooked orange bills with black tips, long white tails with thick blue-black distal bands, and gray terminal bands. Their legs are reddish-orange.
Females are brown overall with heavy white streaks on their bellies. They have whitish heads, with darker areas above and behind the eyes. They have orangish-brown eyes, a thin, curved orange bill with a black tip, and white chins. Their legs are red-orange.
Juveniles resemble females with their dark brown coloring and streaks on their heads and bellies. Their eyes are dark brown, their bills are entirely dark and their legs are yellowish.
- Rostrhamus sociabilis
- Length: 16 – 18 in (41 – 46 cm)
- Weight: 13.3 oz (377 g)
- Wingspan: 45 in (114 cm)
Snail Kites are resident all year in Central and South America, Cuba and mainly Florida in the southern United States.
You can find Snail Kites in freshwater marshes, shallow lakes, and other bodies of water with marsh edges and emergent vegetation. They roost communally in tropical woodlands near these wetlands.
The apple snail is the primary food of these Snail Kites. They hunt them from a perch or while flying over shallow and clear waters. They grasp them with their talons and then perch on a branch to extract the snail from within with their specialized hooked bills.
When apple snails are less abundant, they may feed on other prey like turtles, crayfish, snakes, small crabs, or fish.
Snail Kite Call:
Nests of Snail Kites are often found in bushes on the ground or in trees less than 30 feet tall. They are usually beside shallow water next to feeding areas. The male builds the nest with dry sticks and plant materials lined with leaves, reeds, and grasses.
The female lays two to four eggs and both adults incubate them for twenty-six to thirty days.
Fun Fact: Once the young become fledglings, one parent will establish another brood with another mate, in a mating system called “sequential monogamy”.
6. Double-toothed Kite
Double-toothed Kites are considered accidental species in Texas, and according to records, they have only been spotted around High Island in 2011.
Double-toothed Kites are relatively small raptors. They have dark gray heads, backs, and wings. Their eyes are orange with dark pupils and their bills are short, stout, and black and gray at the tip. Their bellies and breasts have varying rufous (reddish) coloring with grayish-white streaks or barring.
Their throats are white and have a vertical dark stripe in the center. Their rumps and the undersides of the wings are white and visible during flight. Their legs are bright yellow.
Females are similar to males but they have deeper rufous coloring on their underparts and the barring is more often dark chestnut instead of grayish-white.
Juveniles have the same coloring as adults except for their underparts. Juveniles have whitish breasts with varying brownish vertical streaks or mottling. Their bellies are whitish, too.
- Harpagus bidentatus
- Length: 11 – 13.7 in (29 – 35 cm)
- Weight: 5.8 – 8 oz (161 – 229 g)
- Wingspan: 23.6 – 28 in (60 – 72 cm)
The Double-toothed Kite is a member of the bird of prey family that is normally found in Central and South America. However, in 2011, it was photographed in Texas and is now considered a vagrant in the United States.
You can find Double-toothed Kites in rainforests, at the edges of forests and clearings, in dense forests, and in previously disturbed second forests. Second forests are woodland areas that are growing again after the cutting of timber.
Double-toothed Kites typically hunt from their perch just below the treetops. They target lizards, bats, and insects, like cicadas, grasshoppers, and crickets. They may simply swoop down and snatch their prey or they can catch them in flight. Sometimes they hop on branches to reach their prey, too.
They have also been observed to follow monkeys, not to eat, but to capture any animals that they rustle up when they move.
Double-toothed Kite Call:
Nests of Double-toothed Kites are made of sticks and twigs built by the female. These are placed on the fork of a tree, usually at a high elevation. She will then lay one to two eggs and incubates them for about forty-two to forty-five days.
During this time, the male stays away but returns to deliver food. When they’ve hatched, the female also hunts to feed the young. Even when they’ve already learned to fly, younglings are still dependent on their parents for about another month or two.
Fun Fact: The Double-toothed Kite doesn’t really have any teeth despite its name. The “Tooth” part refers to the tooth-like structures on the edges of their upper mandibles.