|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.|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Learn more about these drawings.
Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds
Download Our Bird Guide App
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
See a fully interactive migration map for over 450 bird species on the Bird Migration Explorer.Learn more
Songs and CallsLow cackles and chatters when disturbed.
Learn more about this sound collection.
How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Snail Kite
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.
Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.
Climate threats facing the Snail Kite
Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.