Birding Thursday: Snail Kite

Birding Thursday: Snail Kite

This bird was the focus of my first ever field job.

It’s almost like he photo-bombed my picture!

Anyhow, this my friends, is the Snail Kite. Probably one of the most unique birds I have worked with. Granted I haven’t worked hands on with too many species of birds, but these guys I feel, are one of a kind. Let me list a few reasons why:

-They hunt on the water. For snails. Apple snails to be specific.  Occasionally frogs or turtles, but mostly snails.

-They have a very curved bill, specialized to pull out the snail from it’s shell. And hook you with a bit if you’re not careful when handling.

-Their range is restricted by the abundance of snails throughout Central and Southern Florida, the Everglades included. The amount of water also determines their range, because when there is no water and only mud, there are significantly less snails for the kites to hunt.

Isn’t this guy just the cutest? Don’t let that face fool you though, they are loud as hell and their parents will dive bomb you if you’re not careful.

I spent my Spring of 2009 riding around on airboats trying to find every single one of their nests through the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes in Central Florida and everywhere between there and the Everglades. We monitored every nest we found, along with every chick born and fledged. We banded some, put telemetry packs on others, and had so much fun.

They are indeed very delicate creatures. Their habitats are severely threatened from urbanization, pollution and god knows what else.  Invasive snails that are too big for the kite to carry and break into? Yeah, they aren’t on the winning side of things right now.

But!! I have heard things are getting better for them and that makes me so happy. They have such small clutches, 2-3 eggs and/or chicks a year (sometimes two clutches a year though if one fails), built right in the typha plant, trees, and reeds of the lakes and marshes. This helps keep them away from land predators like coyotes, and alligators, well, unless a chick falls out of the nest then…not so much.

(Off to find a nest, somewhere in that mess of typha. And alligators. And snapping turtles.And whatever else is out there to kill me.)

The Snail Kite is a tad small, with a wingspan of only 48 inches but striking none the less.  In the adults sexual dimorphism is present, with the adult males being a slate black color with bright red eyes and orange colored legs. The females on the other hand are streaked brown on the chest and belly and other shades of brown all over the rest of them. The juveniles look quite similar to the females and can often be mistaken as each other.

Oh how I miss these guys! And zipping around on airboats of course. How could you not like flying across water like that!!!???

Until next Thursday!

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One Response to Birding Thursday: Snail Kite

  1. B. William says:

    Love it!! These birds are fascinating. Very jealous of your experience with them. Makes me think I should get to painting them very soon. Looking forward to next Thursday!

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