Is a mississippi kite a falcon or a hawk?

Answered by Douglas Hiatt

The Mississippi kite is neither a falcon nor a hawk, but rather a distinct species in its own family, Accipitridae. Falcons and hawks are also birds of prey, but they belong to different families within the order Accipitriformes. While they share some similarities in their hunting behavior and physical characteristics, there are important differences that set them apart.

Falcons, belonging to the family Falconidae, are known for their exceptional speed and agility. They have long, pointed wings and a streamlined body that allows them to achieve incredible speeds during their hunting flights. Falcons are known for their ability to perform high-speed aerial pursuits, often diving steeply to catch their prey. They have sharp, notched beaks that are adapted for tearing the flesh of their captured prey. Some well-known species of falcons include the peregrine falcon and the American kestrel.

Hawks, on the other hand, belong to the family Accipitridae, which also includes eagles, kites, and harriers. Hawks have broader wings and a larger body compared to falcons. They are known for their soaring flight, where they glide on thermal currents in search of prey. Hawks have strong, curved beaks that are ideal for capturing and tearing their prey. They are generally more adept at maneuvering through dense vegetation and hunting in forested areas. Examples of hawks include the red-tailed hawk and the Cooper’s hawk.

Now, let’s focus specifically on the Mississippi kite. Although it shares some physical characteristics with both falcons and hawks, it has its own unique traits. Mississippi kites have narrow, pointed wings that enable them to be incredibly agile in flight. They are known for their graceful flight patterns, often appearing to effortlessly float in the air. This aerial mastery allows them to catch flying insects, which make up a significant portion of their diet.

Unlike falcons, Mississippi kites do not rely on high-speed pursuits to capture their prey. Instead, they employ a different hunting technique called “kiting.” Kiting involves hovering in the air and scanning the ground below for prey. Once spotted, the kite will swoop down and snatch the prey with its sharp talons. This hunting behavior is more similar to hawks, as they also rely on this technique.

In terms of appearance, Mississippi kites have a grayish coloration with a lighter head and underparts. They have distinct reddish eyes and a black beak. Their size is smaller compared to most hawks, but larger than the average falcon. Additionally, Mississippi kites are known for their migratory behavior, as they breed in the United States and Mexico, and then migrate to South America during the winter months.

The Mississippi kite is neither a falcon nor a hawk. It is a unique species in its own family, the Accipitridae, within the order Accipitriformes. While it shares some similarities with both falcons and hawks, such as being a bird of prey and having sharp talons, its distinctive characteristics, hunting behavior, and appearance set it apart from these other raptors.