A protected species of bird, rare in Corrales, was shot and killed recently, which has local bird-lovers demanding a crackdown on discharging guns in the Bosque Preserve. In mid-July, a Mississippi Kite, a medium-sized raptor, was found killed by gunshot near the preserve. The dead bird was taken to Corrales’ Mikal Deese, wild bird rehabilitator and director of On a Wing and a Prayer, who is preserving it and x-rays as evidence for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigators. “The plumage reveals that this bird was in its second year. No doubt it had been hatched and raised here, migrated to South America with its parents, and then flew all the way back to Corrales this spring,” Deese told Village officials July 26. “Mississippi Kites are rare here, but have established a small breeding population in the Corrales Bosque.”
Deese said the Mississippi Kite is protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Act, so the killing was reported to federal and state wildlife officials. Corrales ornithologist Janet Ruth has been studying the birds nesting here for several years. “One of the birds I watch for daily in the spring here in Corrales is the Mississippi Kite. It is a raptor in the Accipitridae family (related to hawks and eagles). They are medium-sized raptors.… “I am always amazed at the distances these birds travel twice a year. Mississippi Kites winter in South America, as far south as Argentina and Paraguay. Their breeding distribution in North America is primarily the southern half of the United States, mostly the southeastern U.S., the southern Great Plains, and north along the Mississippi River.”
Ruth said the bird is seen in the arid Southwest, but is limited to riparian areas (in New Mexico predominantly the Río Grande and the lower Pecos River). “Like many raptors, it has experienced historical population fluctuations due to shooting, egg-collecting and habitat change (especially deforestation). Thanks to the efforts of conservation groups, informed citizens and legislation protecting them, much of the loss of raptors to shooting and egg-collecting is a thing of the past. “Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, it’s illegal to shoot a raptor. Raptor populations have again expanded across the U.S., even into areas where they had not been seen before. In fact, Mississippi Kites were not recorded in New Mexico before 1955 and Jim Findley (2013) noted that his first record for Corrales was in 1966. Since then, they have become uncommon but regular summer breeders in Corrales. “Given that the shooting of raptors by uninformed citizens is generally a tragedy of the past, I was stunned to hear that a Mississippi Kite was shot in the Corrales area. I cannot imagine what reason someone could have for shooting such a beautiful and harmless (even helpful) bird.
“Besides, it’s also illegal to discharge a firearm anywhere within Corrales Village limits (Section 24-11 in the Code of Ordinances). “I want you to know something about this lovely bird that graces our trees and skies for about five months every year. From the data I gathered to write The Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Corrales (2020) Mississippi Kites arrive in early May and leave for the south in mid-September. There are usually a couple pairs nesting in the Corrales area, some in trees by the river and some as far west as the Loma Larga acequia. Most of the following information is from the Birds of North America account. By the time the kites arrive here, they have usually already formed a pair bond with a mate. Males present females with prey as presents during their mating displays.
“They build their nests out of branches and twigs and line them with leaves; sometimes they refurbish a previous nest or build another in the same tree. Although we’ve never spotted the actual nest, we have been watching a pair of Mississippi Kites that frequent an area along Loma Larga for almost a decade. They usually lay two eggs; incubation lasts for 30 days; nestlings stay in the nest for 30 more days and then fledge (leave the nest) at the age of 30-35 days. But they are hesitant to fly much until they are about 50 days old and the parents continue to feed them until they are 60 days old. That suggests that when that Mississippi Kite was shot here in Corrales somewhere about mid-July, there were one or two nestlings or fledglings and a mate left without a second parent to support them during this crucial growing time.
“These amazingly acrobatic birds can capture prey while they (and their prey) are flying and they can pluck prey from the leaves and branches of trees and shrubs. The majority of their diet is many kinds of insects, especially cicadas, grasshoppers, dragonflies and beetles; they will also take vertebrates like lizards, frogs, toads and bats. Again, I say, why would someone shoot a bird with that diet? Watch for them soaring when the sun has heated up the air —graceful with pointed wings— or perched on a dead branch in a tall tree. Listen for their high-pitched whistle. Their heads and underparts are light gray; their backs and flight feathers are dark gray to almost black. Because of their dark backs, their heads can look almost white. Their tails are uniformly black and squared off; adult eyes are scarlet and the beak and area around the eye is black, giving it almost a masked appearance. The young birds can look quite different. Their underparts are streaked brown, rufous and gray; their upperparts are dull black and they have 2-3 white bands on their tails. They do not reach adult plumage until fall of their second year.”