RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A homeowner in Midlothian was in for a surprise when they found out the “baby owl” they spotted in their backyard was actually a species of bird that didn’t belong in Virginia.
The bird was down and injured when the homeowner spotted it. The Richmond Wildlife Center quickly responded to perform a field rescue.
When Melissa Stanley of the wildlife center found the bird, she quickly realized it was a Mississippi Kite — a bird native to Texas, Oklahoma and some parts of the southeast United States.*
After analyzing why the bird was injured, it was noted that the kite was taloned in the chest by a hawk and slapped the hawk with its wings to free himself.
Right now, it is still unknown how the bird ended up in Virginia in the first place.
The kite had significant bruising on both wings and fractured one by hitting the hawk with force.
Stanley called the State Raptor Biologist of the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, Jeff Cooper, to confirm her identification of the bird was correct. He confirmed the bird was a Mississippi Kite in Virginia.
The only other known formally documented sighting of the bird in Virginia was decades ago along the Potomac River in Northern Virginia, according to Stanley.
The wildlife center reached out to other professional contacts in Virginia to see if anyone had experience rehabilitating Mississippi Kites. Stanley said she needed to be aware of the temperament of the bird in captivity. She was unable to find someone in Virginia so she had to reach out to facilities in Texas and Florida for guidance.
The Mississippi Kite normally eats while in flight but it had a fractured wing. The Richmond Wildlife Center had to commit to helping him eat on his own or hand-feed the bird is flighted again.
The biggest challenge they face at the center is the migration timeline for the kite. The breeding locations of the Mississippi Kites are gathered in colonies by the end of August, and by the beginning of September, the birds are already flying to Mexico.
The fracture will take 6-8 weeks to heal, according to Stanley — then the bird will need a few weeks of physical reconditioning to ensure he can do flighted activities.
The center plans on driving him to the southern part of Texas near the Mexican Border or Western Louisiana once the bird is ready for release.
They will need the help of state biologists in Texas or Louisiana to identify where the flock has congregated for migration so the bird can be reunited.
*Although people in the region have reported seeing Mississippi Kites before, RVA Wildlife said the state only recognizes official reports when detailed photographs are provided to state biologists so the species identification can be confirmed. They say that it’s common for people to misidentify bird species based on sightings or calls, so they rely on professionals to identify the correct species.
Photos below are provided by the Richmond Wildlife Center.