Verification of Unusual Sight Record
For Utah

Rec. # 2008-08

Common name:

Mississippi Kite

Scientific name: Ictinia mississippiensis
Date: 5 May 2008
Time: 8:15 and 8:25 PM
Length of time observed: ~10 seconds, then ~1 minute
Number: 1
Age: Adult
Sex: unknown
Location: Logan River Golf Course, Logan
County: Cache
Elevation: 4480 ft
Distance to bird: 40 ft minimum, 0.2 mile maximum
Optical equipment: Nikon Monarch 10x42 binoculars
Weather: Warm, mostly clear skies, light breeze to no breeze.
Light Conditions: Bright directional sunlight
Description:        Size of bird: About the size of a Peregrine Falcon
(Description:)       Basic Shape: Initial impression was of a falcon, with long pointed wings, but with a longer, square-edged tail. Wings seemed slightly longer (proportionally) than a medium-sized falcon like a Prairie or Peregrine Falcon.
(Description:)  Overall Pattern: Generally light to medium gray, but with bold black tail. White patches in the wing were noticed when the bird banked about 0.2 miles away.
(Description:)            Bill Type: Not directly noticed, but clearly not a long bill. From a distance, bill blended into head shape, consistent with a short hooked bill of a raptor.
Field Marks and
Identifying Characteristics:
I initially spotted this bird flying south over the open lawns of the golf course at a height just over the adjacent willows, roughly 40 ft above ground level. The bird flew out of sight behind the willows along the Logan River. My initial impression was of a medium-sized gray falcon like a Peregrine because of the strong, direct flight of this bird, pointed wings swept back, and size. However, the flight seemed slightly more buoyant and as the bird reached the point at which it was closest to me, still 30 yards away or so, I could see that the bird was generally pale gray overall, but with a bold, solid black tail with no white edging, tip or rump, that was perfectly square at the end (more squared even than a falcon, accipiter, or harrier). The tail was very long for the body size, about the relative length of a Northern Harrier's tail or perhaps even a bit longer. The tail was the field mark that I got the best view of, and it stood out dramatically !
to me. On this flight I did not notice any detail of pattern in the body of the bird - it generally appeared light to medium gray.

About five or ten minutes later, Craig noticed the bird again, this time almost directly overhead (roughly 40 ft up) and heading west towards the setting sun. Again the long black square-tipped tail with otherwise gray underparts was visible. There seemed to be no pattern in the gray underparts, i.e., no barring, no windows, no dark leading edges, etc. The bird was flying again under powered flight with falconlike wingbeats and pointed wingtips swept back, but slightly more buoyant than a falcon. I might say that its flight pattern seemed like a mix between a falcon in hot pursuit and a gull with a mission. It seemed unlike other raptors I have seen, but closer to a falcon than to any other. We were able to watch the flight pattern of the bird for roughly thirty seconds to a minute as it flew west from the railroad tracks where we were standing, over the golf course, and then landing in the stand of willows across the street from the golf course. From a few seconds after the bird was overhead to a few seconds before it landed, the bird was silhouted by the sun. Just before it landed, however, the bird banked to the left and circled around tightly. At this point it was below the horizon so we could see the dorsal surface of the bird. It was distant, but I could again see the long, black, square-tipped tail and the generally gray upperparts, however for the first time here I was able to see that on the upper part of the wing there were two white patches, one on each wing. At this distance, I couldn't confidently say where in the wing the white patches were located, but there were clearly symmetrical flashes of white in the wing of the bird as it banked. At this point the bird was blocked from direct illumination by the sun, so I can be confident that these were not simply reflections of sunlight off of the wings. We immediately drove over to the willow stand where the bird had landed, but were unable to relocate the bird before it became to dark to search about ten or 20 minutes later. I don't know if the bird had roosted in a position that was out of sight from the road or if it had flown on again while we were driving (which required us going out of sight of the bird).
Song or call & method of delivery: None known for certain to come from this individual. A high "ki-ki-ki-ki-ki" was heard to come from the willow stand where this bird landed, but we did not observe the bird making this sound and it may have come from another bird.
Behavior: As described above, flying over the golf course twice in powered flight similar to a falcon but slightly more buoyant.
Habitat: Logan River Golf Course, like many, is a mixture of mostly open, shortly cut grass with interspersed wetlands and ponds. There are many stands of willow, box elder, and other trees around the periphery of the golf course.
Similar species and how
were they eliminated:
My first impression of this bird was of a falcon because of its strong direct flight, narrow pointed wings, and size. However, no falcon that I know of has a long, solid black tail with a perfectly square tip. Also, the ventral surface of the bird I saw was a solid color, with no streaking or barring. The flight also seemed a bit too buoyant for a falcon.

A male Northern Harrier might suggest this bird because both are grayish with long tails. However, this bird had more powerful flight than a harrier, and had a solid black tail. The tail of the bird I saw was even more squared than the tail of a harrier.

A gull or tern may have a similar color pattern of solid gray with long pointed wings, but this bird had a long, solid black tail with a squared end. Also, this bird had a more powerfull flight than a gull or tern, and did not have a bill that protruded in front of the head like a gull or tern would.

An adult Northern Goshawk has direct, powerfull flight and is mostly gray. However, this bird had a solid black tail and wings that were more narrow and pointed than a goshawks. Also, northern goshawks do not have white patches in the wings.

The flight pattern may match other species of kite, but none of the other kites has a gray body and a long, solid black, squared-off tail.
Previous experience with
this & similar species:
I am very familiar with the species that regularly occur in the area, and it was immediately apparent to me that this was not one of them. I have much experience with the similar species described above, having birded actively for ten years and volunteered for hawk watches and other bird projects on several occassions. However, This is my first observation of a kite.

It may be an advantage that all of these observations were made without really knowing what a Mississippi Kite should look like. From what I know of the flight pattern of kites I was pretty sure this was a kite after the first few wingbeats, but I did not know which species and it was only after consulting the field guides that I realized which species this was.
References consulted: Sibley Guide to Birds and Kaufman's Field Guide to Birds of North America were consulted after the observation. None were consulted during the observation.
Description from: Notes made later
Observer: Ryan P. O'Donnell
Observer's address: 1098 Crescent Dr., Logan, UT 84341
Observer's e-mail address:
Other observers who independently identified this bird: Craig Fosdick
Date prepared: 7 May 2008
Additional material:  
Additional Comments: The notes from which I prepared this report were made from memory within two hours of observing the bird. I waited two days to submit this record in the hopes that I would be able to take and attach a photo, but I have been unable to relocate this bird.

While I understand that this information doesn't necessarily add any credence to my observation, this seems to me to be an overdue species in the state of Utah. There are several records from Nevada, one from Montana, and breeding populations in Arizona and Colorado. My limited review of other vagrant records of this species indicate that May is a likely time to find them wandering. For example, two of the four Nevada records are from May.

I believe Craig Fosdick will be preparing a report about this bird as well. It may be useful for the committee to note that these reports are being prepared completely independently.