4 Types Of KITE BIRDS In Texas (ID Guide With Photos)

Did you recently come across a kite bird in Texas, and want to know what species it was?

Identifying kite species in the Lone Star State is not as easy as it might seem, since there are four types of kites that regularly occur in Texas.

To help you identify the bird you saw, we’ll cover all the kite birds of Texas in this article.

Types of kite birds found in Texas

What are the types of kite birds in Texas?

The 4 types of kite birds found in Texas are:

  • Swallow-tailed Kite
  • White-tailed Kite
  • Mississippi Kite
  • Hook-billed Kite

While all of these kite species are regular breeding birds in Texas, some are present all year round, while others are migratory birds that only occur in the state during summer.

Now let’s dive into the details, and take a closer look at each of these kite birds:

Swallow-tailed Kite

Scientific name: Elanoides forficatus

Photo of two Swallow-tailed Kites

With a wingspan of up to 5 feet, this elegant raptor is the largest kite species in Texas.

It is easy to identify in flight, due to the combination of its bright white underparts with its dark wings and deeply forked tail. 

The rear margins of the wings and the tail are black. When perched on a tree, its white head and chest contrast with the dark grayish black upperside.

This Texas raptor is a skilled hunter and capable of catching insects in flight, as well as snatching lizards from branches. 

Outside of the breeding season the preferred food of these birds are flying insects, but when a pair is raising its young, small reptiles, amphibians, and rodents are also included in their diet.

Whenever there is a sufficiently strong wind, these birds are capable of flying while hardly beating their wings. They  also use the wind to hover in place, which is a behavior known as “kiting.”

Texas currently has the largest population of breeding Swallow-tailed Kites in North America.

Where can you see Swallow-tailed Kites in Texas?

Swallow-tailed Kites used to be common throughout eastern Texas, but now only occur in a very small area of the southeast corner of the state.

Their preferred habitats are usually forested swamp areas, although they also forage over farmland.

These birds are summer visitors in Texas, arriving in March, and leaving again in September. They migrate to southern Brazil to spend the winter.

Related: Types of large birds in Texas

White-tailed Kite

Scientific name: Elanus leucurus

Photo of White-tailed Kite

With a wingspan of about 3 feet, the White-tailed Kite is considerably smaller than the Swallow-tailed Kite.

Adults are almost entirely white birds when viewed from below, with a white underside, head, and tail.

Their upper side is light gray, with dark gray patches on the shoulders. The eyes are deep red. Juvenile birds, on the other hand, have a more brownish color with light streaks.

These birds hunt for small rodents, insects and reptiles in open grassland, either from a perch or on the wing.

Similar to kestrels, these birds like to hover in place over a specific spot, while waiting for a rodent to come out of its burrow on the ground below.

White-tailed Kites are regular breeding birds in coastal areas of Texas, where they are year-round residents in areas with grasslands and large meadows. 

These birds are easy to spot, since they like to hover in place over grassy fields, while hunting for rodents on the ground below.

Mississippi Kite

Scientific name: Ictinia mississippiensis

Photo of Mississippi Kite perched on a branch

The Mississippi Kite is a sleek raptor with pointed wings resembling those of a falcon. It is a skilled aerial hunter that often hovers and then swoops down to catch flying insects on the wing.

It is a social bird, and several pairs can often be encountered nesting together in small colonies, and can also be seen foraging together.

Its preferred habitat are wet woodlands, as well as urban habitats such as golf courses or playing fields.

These birds have recently expanded their range, and their willingness to adopt urban habitats is part of the reason for this. 

Mississippi Kites are long-distance migratory birds, and spend the winter in South America.

It is the most abundant kite species found in Texas, and is found as a breeding bird in northern Texas (where it is most common), as well as in eastern and southern Texas.

If you want to see this bird, keep in mind that they are summer visitors, and are present in the state from April through September.

Hook-billed Kite

Scientific name: Chondrohierax uncinatus

Photo of Hook-billed Kite in flight

The large bill of the Hook-billed Kite resembles that of a parrot. It uses its oversized curved bill to open the shells of snails that it hunts in tree canopies.

Due to its extreme specialization on a single prey species, the local population density of this bird is highly dependent on the number of snails found in the area.

This tropical bird is commonly found in large parts of South America and Central America. 

The only North American breeding population of Hook-billed Kites is found in South Texas in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

These birds have two thick crossbars on their tail, as well as smaller crossbars on their flight feathers, and dense barring on their belly.

Their wings are broader and less pointed than those of other kite species, which makes them look more like a hawk when soaring or flying at tree top height.

While males are largely gray, females and immature birds are more brownish. 

If you want to see this bird in Texas, the best place to look for them is the Rio Grande Valley between Santa Ana and Falcon Dam.

And while these birds are rare in the state, they are year-round residents in Texas that don’t migrate south in winter.

Conclusion

And there we have the kite species found in Texas!

The varied habitats of Texas are home to more than 500 different species of birds, and kites contribute to this rich avifauna.

These elegant raptors spend a lot of time soaring, kiting, and swooping down on prey in mid-air, which makes them a thrill to observe anytime you’re bird watching in Texas.

If you enjoyed this article, check out our guide to the Texas birds of prey.

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