Kites return to Rockford

Others and I started looking for kites on May 2, and when I hadn’t seen any through yesterday, I concluded they wouldn’t be here this year. Their latest arrival in previous years had been May 12. But I was wrong, thankfully. John Longhenry spotted 2 males yesterday afternoon, one at Bloom School, and one in the large dead tree visible from the corner of Buckingham Drive and Pleasant View Court, about 3 blocks north of the school.

This morning, I watched a male fly briefly around the school parking lot and then sit for 20 minutes preening at the top of a tree on the corner of Grenham Pl and Barrington Pl, across from the school lot entrance. Then it flew low to the north along Grenham.

15 minutes later, a male flew into the school lot from the east, circled the trees by the memorial bench, and then rose higher and higher and higher into the sky. As I once infamously said about a Hawfinch on Attu, “the last time I saw it it was out of sight”. Incredible.

Perhaps the birds arrived earlier than yesterday–with such behavior, a kite is tough to find.


A little history:

Kites were first noted near Bloom School in the summer of 2008, and it seemed numbers were slowly increasing each year after. On some days 5 or possibly 6 individual birds were distinguished. It appears the peak numbers were in 2010. Judging from counts of individuals and kite perching behavior, I think they might have nested in 4 different Bloom School area locations that year. Also, on August 30, 2010, a migrating flock of 9 birds (probably including a subadult from the Bloom neighborhood) was seen just before a rainstorm arrived.

At least one successful nest was found every year; 3 young were known to have fledged in 2010, and 2 fledglings were documented last year by John Longhenry. No nest with 2 young, the typical number, has yet been found. Perhaps this year.

Kites return to Rockford

Dan Williams, I, and perhaps others, have been checking the Bloom School neighborhood daily without seeing any kites through yesterday. However, today Jeff Donaldson spotted a Mississippi Kite soaring east of the school. Between 5 and 5:30 pm, Donna and I found 3 kites. Two were soaring together near Rural St. and Woodlane Ave, which is a few blocks south of the school. A third bird, missing 1 or 2 primaries on the left wing at about the position of P4 or P5, was circling a block west of the school.

They’ve come back just in time for the Spring Count!

Sapsuckers, etc.

Yesterday and today there were gorgeous male Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers here, there and around town.
Dan and I looked for the reported Eared Grebe at Rock Cut State Park. We found three Horned Grebes in various plumages, one in almost-full breeding plumage, nineteen Pied-billed Grebes, 40-45 Wood Ducks, 2 Ruddies, 2 Ring-necks, a few Redheads and Lesser Scaup and a very sassy Belted Kingfisher, but no Eared Grebe.
We also searched the Bloom School and the Marsh School neighborhoods looking for Mississippi Kites, (see the previous report on this blog) but came up empty.
If anyone sees those birds, please post. We’d like to catch up with them!

Barbara Williams

Kites nesting in Rockford

This post offers news and makes a request for assistance.

There are two nests of Mississippi Kites under construction by two different pairs of birds. Construction of the first one probably began on 12 May. The second nest was under construction on 20 May, and from its size then, my guess is that it was started around the 17th. The males are building, with females often perched nearby, not always on a conspicuous perch. The birds frequently call to each other.

First, a bit of history. In 2008, the first Rockford kite nest was found in a deciduous tree at Bloom School. A nest was found in 2009 in a pine near Luther and Pioneer. A nest was found last year in a pine tree near Buckingham and Fairview Court, and we have reason to believe that the same nest tree was also used in 2009. (It is not being used this year.) All of these nests were located just before birds fledged and left them; none were located during construction.

In addition to adult birds seen those years, the following birds were recorded:

2008: 1 fledgling
2009: 1 fledgling, 1 subadult
2010: 3 fledglings, 1 subadult male

No subadults have yet been seen this year.

There are more details at

Rockford appears to be in the vanguard of a significant Mississippi Kite range expansion. We can contribute useful information about this expansion by monitoring population size and changes here in Rockford. It is difficult to differentiate individual adults—we can’t mark them—so the best way to be sure of a minimum population size is to associate them with nests. Your observations can help with this, but only if you report them.

Kites soaring in the sky feeding (or whatever) cover a wide area and don’t indicate where nests might be. The nests located so far were found by cruising streets in the morning, between 6 and 10, listening for kites, and hoping to catch sight of low-flying birds. Nest-building occurs primarily in the morning, around 6 to 10, before birds go out to feed. If you see or hear low-flying / calling birds in an area, please let us know where that is by calling me at 815-877-6229 or Dan Williams at 815-979-8335. We think that the extended Bloom School area in which kites might be nesting is bounded by Highcrest and Rural on the north and south, and by Parkview and Chelsea on the west and east. I believe that last year, in addition to the spots where young birds were found, kites could have nested, successfully or not, just south of Guilford near Woodlane, and west of James near Barrington Place.

Mississippi Kite return

I started systematically criss-crossing the Bloom School neighborhood a week ago, watching for kites. Others have searched as well. After 45 minutes of searching this morning, at 9:20 I saw a strikingly handsome male Mississippi Kite circling low over last year’s known nest tree near Fairview and Buckingham. I watched it for 10 minutes as it circled higher and higher and eventually disappeared very high in the sky east and well south of Bloom School. I saw no other kites. Please post to this blog any significant kite observations you make, such as different or multiple individuals, or locations other than this neighborhood.

Request for Mississippi Kite information

On Thursday, September 16, Dan Williams saw an adult and a juvenile. At a different time, I saw the juvenile flying very strongly. We were both out of town for a couple of days after that, and wonder if anyone else has seen any of the kites since last Thursday. If so, please comment on this post, giving date and details. We want to determine the departure date of the last kite. Thanks.

Kite explosion in Rockford

After birding yesterday with Dan & Barb (see previous post), Donna and I went by the intersection where juvenile kite #2 (Kid 2) was seen last Wednesday and again Friday (see 1 Sep post). We found a third juvenile kite perched on a branch 40-45 feet up in a pin oak on the northeast corner of Lundvall and Parkwood. We were able to show it to out-of-town photographers and to many residents of the neighborhood who came by to see what was going on. The kite remained on that branch until around 9:30 this morning, when it moved to a lower branch about 25-30 feet up in the same tree. We have no reports of this bird being able to fly yet.

After checking on this new “Kid 3” this morning, Donna and I happened to discover a fourth juvenile kite sitting a two or three feet above its nest not far off Highcrest. That nest is less than 600 feet from the nest we reported here on 13 August. Although we did not see it move, Dan and Barbara Williams saw it fly about 15 feet, without leaving its nest tree. It appears to be about the same age as Kid 3.

A summary of sighting histories of these four young kites has been posted on IBET with the same title as this post.

Click on the photo below to see it in full.

Juvenile Mississippi Kite
Kid 4 today

Mississippi Kites update

Dan and Barbara Williams and I assaulted the intersection of Parkwood and Lundvall (just south of Bloom School) this morning, radios in hand, to cast a dragnet for nesting activity. Previous observations, especially last night, gave reason to believe a nest might be near here. After more than two hours of work, success! A juvenile was discovered that is capable of flying short distances. There is some reason to believe it may have a sibling, but there is as yet no confirmation of that.

Since our suspicion about nesting here was correct, I’ll go out on a limb (no pun intended) and say that we suspect there is yet another nest somewhere south of Guilford.

Very surprising is a report from two knowledgeable observers who live south of Guilford on Parkwood. Monday evening, in advance of a weather front, they watched a flock of 9 kites circling together over their house.

I have updated the map here to reflect these observations. Note that you can zoom in and out, and read details either on the key at left, or by clicking on the markers.

Shorebirds and kites

Weekend birders traveling to Rockford to see kites might like to know that they were very conspicuous around 11:00 today. Donna and I saw them as soon as we got to Stratford and Buckingham. Between there and west of James on Burrmont, we saw at least four, and probably five, adult kites. At James and Pelham, we had two adult males together only 50 feet over our heads. We saw kites north of Highcrest, but not at the school or south of there. They were putting on quite a show in this beautiful, breezy weather, flying at less than 200 feet altitude most of the time. There was hardly a period for 15 minutes that one was not in sight as we cruised around looking for (and not finding) a young bird.

Around 1:30, we detoured from errands to run by Oliver Road. Along the oxbows there, we found 26 Great Egrets and perhaps 100 shorebirds. In order of abundance, they were Killdeers and Lesser Yellowlegs, Pectorals, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Snipes, Spotted Sandpiper, and Wilson’s Phalarope. Certainly worth checking again tomorrow morning—heat haze won’t be a problem, and something really good could drop in at any time.

Donut lovers: Edwards Orchard store on Cemetery Road opened today.