NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Three small insect-eating raptors called Mississippi kites were released Friday by Louisiana State University's wildlife hospital.
The release in Baton Rouge was timed so the birds, which are known for their aerobatics as they chase and grab insects while flying, can migrate to South America, where they winter in Brazil and Argentina.
Two flew into nearby trees, but one — brought to the Wildlife Hospital of Louisiana in 2020 as a nestling with a broken leg — excited veterinary students by soaring for a bit before landing, Dr. Mark Mitchell, the hospital’s director, said Friday.
He said it almost seemed as if a bird that had taken wing only in a flight cage was saying, “Now I know what these things on my sides are for.”
The three had been living in the same flight cage and were held close to each other, then released simultaneously in hope they would stay together over a journey of 5,000 to 9,000 miles, Mitchell said.
The bird brought in as a nestling apparently had fallen from its nest in July 2020, Mitchell said in a phone interview. He was named Burreaux after quarterback Joe Burrow, who won the Heisman Trophy while at LSU and now plays for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Wildlife brought to the hospital are named only if they may become long-term residents. Veterinarians didn't know at first whether Burreaux's leg would ever heal well enough for release, Mitchell said.
The bird's leg healed too late for the 2020 migration, Mitchell said Friday. And then in 2021, Burreaux was overweight and quickly became winded, Mitchell said.
But veterinary students put Burreaux on a diet, and spending time in a flight cage with the others got him flying more, Mitchell said.
The other two likely had been shot, Mitchell said. One was brought May 9 with two broken bones in one wing. One bone was pinned and the other is held stable with an assembly of tiny pins and bars called an external fixator. The third Mississippi kite, which arrived May 25, had an injured eye and wing. It was given fluids, pain medication and supportive care.
He said he couldn't remember that many Mississippi kites being released together. In fact, he had forgotten that he was part of a three-kite release in 2005.
Of 29 Mississippi kites brought to the hospital this year, 16 died or had to be euthanized and 13 were released, Mitchell said.
Mississippi kites can be found from the southern Great Plains to Illinois, along the Gulf Coast through northern Florida and up into South Carolina, and up the Mississippi River through Arkansas and into southern Illinois and Indiana.
Their range has recently expanded north, with nesting pairs reported in New England, according to HawkWatch International.
LSU's wildlife hospital treats more than 1,200 wild mammals, birds, and reptiles a year, with a 15% anticipated annual increase, according to the news release.
The three kites released Friday landed a couple of trees apart, Mitchell said. “I feel they’ll all catch up together,” he said.