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Unusual Birds Nesting in St. Matthews

Three Mississippi Kites between Chenoweth Lane and St. Mathews Ave, Louisville, Ky.
July 15, 2013
PK Spaulding
Pam Spaulding

Today in St. Matthews wildlife: a pair of birds that aren’t native to the region have built a nest and hatched a chick in a neighborhood off Chenoweth Lane. Mississippi Kites are part of the raptor family—like hawks and eagles—but mainly eat insects.The birds usually nest in the southern Great Plains, and along the Mississippi and lower Ohio Rivers, and this year marks the first confirmed nest in Louisville.Mississippi Kites are distinctive looking. Dark wings, white heads, curved beaks. And though they don’t typically make it as far as Louisville, a pair is nesting high in a tree in a quiet St. Matthews neighborhood and have hatched a chick.Brainard Palmer-Ball is a member of the Kentucky Ornithological Society. He says Mississippi Kites are fascinating to watch.“They’re just gliding around all day long up there and they’ll catch a dragonfly or cicada and they’ll actually sit there and as they spiral around in the sky, you’ll see them reach back and they’re holding it in their talons and they’ll eat it in the air,” he said. “So they don’t come back to the trees or anything to eat.”The birds usually nest along the Mississippi and lower Ohio River, which includes Western Kentucky, and winters in the tropics. Palmer-Ball says no one is sure why the birds have been expanding their range and moving north in recent years.“Is it because of climate change or is it just because the species is doing well and they’re expanding farther away from the traditional areas?” he asked. “Nobody knows for sure, although this is another of many southern species that are moving north in a gradual fashion. Anecdotally, you’d like to think it’s got something to do with temperature.”At any rate, the kites practice “site fidelity,” which means they usually nest in the same place year after year. On one hand, Palmer-Ball says this could mean the kites have been in Louisville for several years—there have been isolated sightings, but no confirmed nests. But because they’ve managed to nest here successfully, it likely means they’ll be back in the future.