Mississippi kites return as summer nears

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Trent Wilson
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing Safety Office
Once again it is that time of year for returning Mississippi Kites (Ictinia mississippiensis) in the Altus area.

Mississippi kites are a sleek, crow sized raptor bird. They are common to the central and southern Great Plains area and seem to love the area around the Windy Trails golf course on Altus AFB.

Now you might not think of Altus as the perfect spot for a summer vacation, but to these birds this is the prime location for a summer nesting area. From now until early September, the kites make their summer home primarily around the golf course walking track area and have been known to take up residence in other places around the base. Why are these birds any more of a problem than any other bird you might ask? The reason is because they are very protective of their chicks and will often swoop from trees and attack people who they think pose a threat to their nest.

According to Eric Cowan, Wildlife Biologist for Wing Safety, last year we had only seven reported cases of kites attacking personnel, a decrease from previous years. However, that decrease is no reason to let our guard down. At times these birds have been known to cause serious injuries to people.

"In the past we have seen these birds cause serious injuries to the head area requiring sutures and even worse, permanent eye injury," Mr. Cowan said. "Kites, like hawks or falcons, attack with their talons or claws, which can be very sharp and can do a lot of damage to the unsuspecting person walking by."

Since the base is prone to kite strikes and is a nesting area for these birds, measures are being taken to ensure the safety of the base population. Mr. Cowan will be marking the area around the golf course with signs warning individuals of the general presence of kites in the area. As the nesting season continues and adults start protecting their nests, additional 8"x 11" warning signs will be posted around the immediate vicinity of aggressive nesting areas.

Orange ribbons will be tied around the specific trees that the kites are using for nesting. Both of these will serve to alert people of their presence. Personnel should try to avoid these specific nesting areas if at all possible.

"When multiple kite swoops or attacks are reported at a nesting site, we will remove the eggs or chicks from the nest and transport theme to a wildlife rehabilitator to be fledged and released. Once the eggs or chicks have been removed from the nest the adults quickly loose the urge to protect their nest," said Mr. Cowan.

People can help reduce the chance of being swooped if they avoid nesting areas marked by warning signs. If you are attacked, continue to move through the area and "DON'T STOP", raise your arms or hat in the air as you continue through the area due to birds strike at the highest point from above.

All should remain vigilant while out for family walks or a run around the base areas, particularly around the golf course area. Remember to educate your co-workers and family members on the danger these birds may pose to them.

If you are an unfortunate kite attack recipient, please report it and call the Wing Safety office at 481-7289 or 481-7233.