Alva Review-Courier -

Beware! It's kite season

 


I enjoy walking, but I’ve never been fond of running. On the other hand, my granddaughter Kat ran with her high school’s cross country team. Injuries eventually took her off the college team, but she continues to enjoy exercising by running and jogging.

Friday she chose a route along Young Street south of the university campus and turned onto Davis, which goes past Lincoln School. She was running along enjoying music from her pink and white headphones when … WHAP … she was struck in the head from behind. Startled, she looked around and spotted a large bird circling. Like any self-respecting 20-something, she pulled out her cellphone to document the moment.

Expecting this to be a one-time event, she focused on her phone but the bird struck again! On the third dive by the bird, she took evasive action dropping low to the ground. Lincoln School was near so she took shelter under the front entrance overhang until the bird gave up the chase. She checked herself for injuries, but the only casualty was the pink headphones. The bird attack split the band across the middle.

Making her way watchfully back to her car, Kat decided this was a story she had to share. She related the episode to an interested group in the newspaper office. Several of us explained she’d just had a close encounter with a Mississippi kite. We told her stories of others experiencing similar dive bombing birds. One employee said the kites that live in her trees leave her alone but pursue her cats. Those who weren’t familiar with the medium-sized hawks did a web search.

Eventually the tales morphed into a discussion of BirdsArentReal.com. Kat has seen a posting on a light pole on the university campus. There’s also one at a local car wash. The website says that most birds are not real. The U.S. government has killed the birds and replaced them with drones. “Resist the bird drones that steal your information and spy on you,” says one line on the site. There’s also a Facebook page.

Apparently the site was started for satirical purposes, poking fun at conspiracy theories. It’s also geared to spread the word (and make money) by offering t-shirts and other apparel for sale. When you have some spare time, you might enjoy checking it out.

Later Friday afternoon, our office staff experienced one of those odd coincidences when the UPS delivery driver walked in with a package. The usually bare-headed man was wearing a brown floppy-brimmed hat. He exclaimed, “I was just attacked by a bird!”

We asked if he was near Lincoln School, and he said that’s where he attempted to make a delivery. A bird flew out of nowhere and dove at his head from behind, raking its claws across his scalp. That’s why he now wore a hat.

He said he had to return to the location Monday since the delivery required a signature, and he didn’t find anyone to sign. He was planning his defensive measures.

I expected the story to end there, but I learned more. Monday evening as we waited for that one last person to make a quorum at the Alva Planning Commission meeting, the topic surfaced again. Mary Hamilton who lives on Davis said she was walking with her grandchildren when the bird dive bombed them. Her grandson flattened himself on the ground to avoid the bird.

Mayor Kelly Parker said his daughter had been walking in the same area when she had to fend off a diving Mississippi kite. I related the stories of my granddaughter and the UPS driver. Apparently the US Postal Service mail carrier has been carrying a broom on his route to fend off the birds of prey.

Tom Streich, who was there to request a zoning change, had a suggestion to keep the predators away. He has a couple of plastic owls in his yard, one with a bobble head. He said the kites stay out of their yard although they nest in trees nearby.

I decided to check the internet for more information. I discovered that northwest Oklahoma is right in the middle of a Mississippi Kite breeding zone. The birds spend a lot of time in the air where they catch and devour insects as they fly.

Mississippi kite adults are gray with darker gray on their tail feathers and outer wings and lighter gray on their heads and inner wings. Kites have red eyes and red to yellow legs. They measure 12 to 15 inches beak to tail with a wingspan of three feet. Their call is a high-pitched squeak, sounding similar to a squeaky toy. They migrate to South America, mostly to Argentina and Brazil, for the winter.

While not an endangered species, the Mississippi kite is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 which protects the birds, their eggs and their nests (occupied or empty) from being moved or tampered with without the proper permits. This can make them somewhat of a nuisance when they choose to roost around golf courses or schools.

I discovered postings by Altus and Vance Air Force Bases describing the kites and their behavior. The postings said the nest locations on the bases were marked, and people were warned to stay at least 50 feet away from them.

The birds generally are aggressive toward humans during nesting season although many studies report that only around ten-percent of nesting kites will be aggressive. Apparently those by Lincoln School are in the rarer ten-percent.

It takes about 30 days for young kites to hatch from the eggs and another 30 to mature. A pair of kites usually lays two eggs in the summer. Many eggs fall victim to storms and predators such as raccoons or great horned owls. Nesting in urban areas cuts down on the number of predators.

As for defensive measures if you must go near the nest of an aggressive pair of kites, carry a broom like the mail carrier. You can also wave a hat or a stick to buy some time. One website search turned up the idea that kites only attack from behind so if you turn to face them, you might escape. However, walking backward could be just as dangerous if you trip over a curb.

Hopefully, the kite babies will be hatched and out of danger by the time classes begin at Lincoln School.

 

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