Swooping down from high above the treetops, the Mississippi kite, a hawk-like bird of prey, dive-bombed a perceived threat on the ground.
The kite came from behind its target, a jogger, and dished out two quick thumps to the jogger’s head and neck. Luckily, the kites, a raptor that nests in central Oklahoma in summer, typically gives a warning strike with closed feet and not open claws, a wildlife biologist said.
Along the grassy median of N Grand Boulevard just west of N May Avenue, the jogger reeled from the jolts and left the area. The gray wingspan of the kite could be seen circling the tree where it nested and the jogger had passed under.
A number of joggers have reported aggressive kites near Lake Hefner in recent years, an Oklahoma City parks official said.
“If they have a nest nearby and they have young, they get pretty protective,” said Don Brown, a spokesman at the state Wildlife Conservation Department.
Kites are numerous in Oklahoma City in June and July, said Mark Howery, a wildife biologist at the Wildlife Department. Adult kites are about a foot long have a 3-foot-long wingspan. They feed on grasshoppers, cicadas and other insects mostly but may prey on small reptiles or other birds, he said.
Kites are migratory and nest in Oklahoma May through September. Their chicks do not hatch until around July 4, Howery said.
In Nichols Hills, the parks with tall trees attract kites each summer, mostly in Kite Park and Grand Park. The city has posted warning signs related to the birds.
Police Maj. Steven Cox, Nichols Hills police spokesman, said there have been reports of kites dive-bombing joggers and striking people in past summers. He said the Nichols Hills animal control officer keeps track of the kites and their activity. He said people have said they have actually knocked the hats off of joggers too.
“They think we are predators and they are trying to protect their young,” Cox said. “They (kites) are definitely out there. We have signs posted describing what the birds will do.
“Our animal control officer has seen them out there this year.”
Howery said kites also have been known to dive-bomb dogs, cats, raccoons and even horses. Golfers and joggers in parks may threaten the kites.
He said one way to stave off a kite attack is to carry an umbrella and open it quickly when one comes near, he said. Howery said the kites will not strike a person or animal with its claws but will keep its feet closed to avoid breaking a claw when giving warnings thumps to intruders.
Oklahoma City parks spokeswoman Jennifer McClintock said there have been reports of people having kite encounters in areas around Lake Hefner in past summers.
If anyone encounters them they should contact the wildlife department, McClintock said.
Kevin Grant, director of U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services in Oklahoma, said he has been called to remove nests that had aggressive kites in the Oklahoma City area. The chicks were taken to the WildCare Foundation in Noble where they were raised and released to the wild.
“There are cases when people actually get struck,” Grant said.
He said chicks in nests can be removed, but he would rather not intervene with nature. When the young kites leave their nests the parents calm down, he said.
Rondi Large, director of the WildCare Foundation, said she raised about 80 kite chicks last summer from nests that were removed.
Two years ago she raised and released about 400 kites. She said the kites can be released and may adapt to the wild, but it is not so good for the young kites to be orphaned because they can’t learn from their parents.
“Our goal should not be to take babies from their parents just because the parents tried to protect them, We should be a little more tolerant,” Large said.
Anyone who wants to report kite activity can call the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, 521-4039.