HAYS, Kan. (KSNW) — Fort Hays State University has a warning for anyone walking across campus — be alert for attacks from above.
A pair of Mississippi kites is nesting in a tree between Forsyth Library and Malloy Hall on Campus Drive. The birds are “vigorously defending the surrounding area of several hundred yards.”
Mississippi Kites are graceful raptors that are the size and shape of a peregrine falcon. They come to Kansas from their winter homes in South America to nest and raise their young.
Wildlife experts say aggressive swoop attacks by kites occur at less than 20% of nesting sites. However, FHSU says that at least one of its Mississippi kites is among that 20% of more aggressive kites.
The university erected a 20-foot perimeter of barricades and bright yellow “caution” tape around the kite family’s tree. The intention was to create a buffer to give the kites a safe space to roost, but the school is still getting reports that at least one of the kites, possibly the male, is intent on defending the nest and a large area of the central campus.
People say the kite swoops low to buzz them. Some have said they received thumps on the head from the knuckles of the bird’s roled talons. So far, FHSU has no reports of cuts, bruises or bicycle crashes.
The FHSU Health and Wellness Services team says that if you get a cut from a kite strike, you should seek medical attention to avoid possible infection.
The best defenses against becoming the victim of a kite strike include:
- Avoiding the barricaded area on Campus Drive near Malloy Hall and the Forsyth Library
- Carrying and deploying an umbrella when you are in or near the danger zone
- Randomly flailing your arms over your head whenever you see or sense the approach of an inbound kite
Mississippi kites are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which means the birds, their eggs, and their offspring cannot be moved, captured, hunted, or killed. This includes the nest as well.
While visiting the high plains, the birds help farmers by eating insects that can harm crops. They usually eat cicadas and grasshoppers but will also eat frogs, small birds and mammals.
Mississippi kites are primarily gray with orange-red legs and feet, a pale light gray head, black wings tipped with a broad white patch, and deep red eyes.
FHSU said kite nests are at risk from Kansas winds, thunderstorms, raccoons, owls and cats. Thus, a nesting colony of kites can be very protective of the area around nests.
FHSU ornithologist and assistant professor of biology Dr. Medhavi Ambardar said the fledglings are beginning to venture out of the nest. This may mean a lessening of the aggressive behavior in the days ahead.
It won’t be long before the Mississippi kites begin their journey back to South America.