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Dive Bombed by a Kite?? Ben Skipper

Story and Photo by Loren Wright


On a gorgeous spring day at Texas Tech University, students can take in the lovely tulips strategically placed in the flowerbeds around campus, feel the first taste of summer as the sun kisses their skin, and they may also be dive bombed by a beautiful large bird known as the Mississippi Kite.

A graceful long-winged raptor, the Mississippi Kite, is not on Tech campus all year long. Around the first of May, the Kites settle back on campus, busily building their nests, laying their eggs, and preparing for their offspring to hatch in the first summer months. It is around this time the Kites can become aggressive birds.

Like most creatures, the Kites are protective of their young and their nests. Through the months of May to August the Kites are most worried about their offspring. When the birds think a person has spotted their nest or is getting to close to their nest, they will swoop down at them, trying to drive that person away from the area.

Ben Skipper, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Natural Resources Management at Tech, is currently studying urban ecology and management of Mississippi Kites. Skipper said when the Kites swoop down they may knock a person’s hat off if wearing one, or occasionally will hit the person in the head with their feet causing a laceration, sometimes even warranting stitches. 

Tarryn Lambert, a communications major at Tech, said she had always seen warning signs around campus but never paid attention to them until she had an encounter with a Kite outside of the Wall-Gates dormitory.

“I stepped out of the dorm to head to my car and this bird came swooping down towards my head. I took off running toward my car for cover,” Lambert said. “Another student saw the whole thing and informed me that it was an angry bird known as a Mississippi Kite.”

Skipper is trying to understand the natural history of Kites in the urban environment and how to manage the aggressive Kites on campus. He said there are a number of aggressive Kites on campus that he is studying. Skipper said they marked these birds to find out more about their mating and nesting habits, as well as to study their aggressive nature.

“We had 12 pairs of Kites breeding on campus last year, so 24 adults.  We caught 21 of them and marked them with a color band,” Skipper said.

Skipper said he is working hard with several techniques to try to minimize aggression in the Kites. He said when a Kite swoops down at him he tries to give the bird a negative stimulus in hope that it would associate swooping with a negative experience, so next time they will think before they swoop at a human.

“We’ve used three different negative stimuli so far. The first was a high intensity strobe light, the second was a high pitch fog horn with the intention of frightening the Kite, and the third was a capture with a prolonged handling,” Skipper said. “So if it swooped toward me I captured it and held it for about thirty minutes.”

Skipper said there was a small decrease in aggression with the handling, but the horn and light were unsuccessful. He said he is still working on developing other techniques to try. So until then, beware of the Kites on Tech campus.