Living Bird Magazine
Snail KiteRostrhamus sociabilis
- ORDER: Accipitriformes
- FAMILY: Accipitridae
The highly specialized Snail Kite flies on broad wings over tropical wetlands as it hunts large freshwater snails. These handsome gray-and-black raptors have a delicate, strongly curved bill that fits inside the snail shells to pull out the juicy prey inside. Unlike most other raptors, Snail Kites nest in colonies and roost communally, sometimes among other waterbirds such as herons and Anhingas. They are common in Central and South America but in the U.S. they occur only in Florida and are listed as Federally Endangered.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Snail Kites are very conspicuous birds, especially when they begin hunting snails in the morning. They fly low around bodies of water or perch in the open near water. As temperatures rise, they may soar rather high, sometimes with Wood Storks or Anhingas, so it is worth keeping an eye skyward for them. Although Snail Kites inhabit most suitable wetlands near the Everglades in Florida, they are somewhat nomadic, moving around to the best areas for feeding. Consulting eBird is a good way to narrow where and when to search.
- Caracolero Común (Spanish)
- Milan des marais (French)
- Cool Facts
- Snail Kite was unknown to science until 1817, when French ornithologist Louis Jean Pierre Vieillot described a specimen taken from near the Rio de la Plata, Argentina.
- Both the Limpkin (a large wading bird related to rails) and the Snail Kite (a raptor) evolved to feed almost entirely on freshwater apple snails (genus Pomacea). These very different bird species coexist peacefully for the most part, largely segregated by their methods of hunting. Limpkins can hunt snails in dense reedbeds and other thick vegetation, wading in on their long legs and using their long bills to move floating vegetation to look for snails. Kites usually fly over open water and drop down to catch snails up to 6 inches deep in the water.
- Biologists in Florida have studied Snail Kite nest success very carefully since 1968. In drought years, such as 1974, as few as 17% of nests have been successful, whereas almost 90% have been successful in years with optimal conditions, meaning stable water levels conducive to apple snails. On average, over the decades, about 40% of nests produce fledglings in Florida.
- The oldest recorded Snail Kite was at least 14 years, 8 months old and lived in Florida.