Photo: Brian E. Small/Vireo

Priority Bird

Snail Kite

Rostrhamus sociabilis

In the wide-open marshes of central Florida, this broad-winged bird glides slowly and low over the sawgrass. It has no need for fast flight, because it seeks only snails -- and only one particular sort, the apple snail. This snail is strongly affected by water levels, and drainage of wetlands has hurt populations of both the snail and the kite. The Florida race of this bird, formerly called Everglades Kite, is now endangered.
Conservation status The Florida population is endangered; disruption of water flow (with impact on habitat and snail populations) is the main cause. Recently an exotic species of apple snail, larger than the local native species, has become established in Florida. The impact of this exotic on the Snail Kites is still uncertain: it might harm the birds by outcompeting the native snail, or the kites may adapt to feeding mainly on the newly established species.
Family Hawks and Eagles
Habitat Fresh marshes and canals. In Florida, found at large freshwater lakes and marshes. Favors shallow waters, with stands of sawgrass and cattails mixed with areas of open water and with a few shrubs or low trees. In the American tropics, also in wet savannahs, rice fields, sugarcane fields.
In the wide-open marshes of central Florida, this broad-winged bird glides slowly and low over the sawgrass. It has no need for fast flight, because it seeks only snails -- and only one particular sort, the apple snail. This snail is strongly affected by water levels, and drainage of wetlands has hurt populations of both the snail and the kite. The Florida race of this bird, formerly called Everglades Kite, is now endangered.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male
  • adult female
  • juvenile
  • adult male
  • adult female
  • juvenile
  • adult male
  • adult female
Feeding Behavior

Hunts by gliding slowly and low over marsh, dropping to pick up snail with one foot from surface of water or plants. Sometimes perches low, scanning surrounding area for snails, then flies to catch one. Kite flies to perch, holds snail with one foot while extracting snail from shell with long, curved upper mandible of bill.


Eggs

Currently in Florida, usually 2-3. Formerly may have laid more eggs there, regularly 4, rarely 5-6; smaller clutches today may be response to lowered food supply. Eggs white, marked with brown. Incubation is by both parents, 26-28 days. Young: Both parents feed the young at first, bringing them snails. After 3-6 weeks, one parent (either one) usually departs, may find another mate and nest again. Remaining parent cares for young until they are 9-11 weeks old. Young may climb out of nest at 4-5 weeks, can fly well at 6-7 weeks.


Young

Both parents feed the young at first, bringing them snails. After 3-6 weeks, one parent (either one) usually departs, may find another mate and nest again. Remaining parent cares for young until they are 9-11 weeks old. Young may climb out of nest at 4-5 weeks, can fly well at 6-7 weeks.

Diet

Large snails. Under normal conditions, Florida birds live almost entirely on large apple snails (genus Pomacea). When the snails become scarce, as during drought, the kites may eat many small turtles. Also rarely eat small snails, rodents, crabs.


Nesting

Usually nests in loose colonies. In courtship, male flies up and dives short distance repeatedly near female; flies with exaggerated deep wingbeats. Male may feed snails to female. Nest site is over water in shrub or low tree, sometimes in cattails or sawgrass, usually 3-15' above water, rarely up to 30' or higher. Nest (built mostly by male) is bulky platform of sticks and twigs, lined with vines and weeds.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Apparently not migratory, but nomadic, moving around in response to changing water levels.

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Migration

Apparently not migratory, but nomadic, moving around in response to changing water levels.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Low cackles and chatters when disturbed.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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Everglades Ecosystem

Everglades Ecosystem

Audubon’s goal for the Everglades is to reestablish colonies of wading birds that have been displaced

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