Skip Navigation

Snail Kite

Rostrhamus sociabilis
snail_kites_CSlavens_profile
The endangered snail kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis) is a raptor found in central and southern Florida. The entire North American range extends from the Upper St. Johns River (near Orlando), down the Kissimmee River Valley, south to Lake Okeechobee, Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, Water Conservation Areas 2 and 3 and Everglades National Park. It also inhabits the Caribbean islands and parts of Central and South America. The kite's former range included northern Florida, including the panhandle. As of 2011, there were approximately 925 snail kites recorded within Florida. Snail kite populations of the Everglades are locally endangered due largely to a loss of habitat and prey base. 

Snail kites are medium-sized raptors, with a total body length for adult birds of 16-18 inches and wingspan of 42-48 inches. The tail is square-tipped with a distinctive white base, and the wings are broad and paddle-shaped in both male and females. Adults of both sexes have red eyes, while juveniles have brown eyes. One striking feature of the snail kite is its beak. The decurved beak allows it to capitalize on their primary food source the native Florida apple snail (
Pomacea paludosa) and more recently, the invasive exotic apple snail (Pomacea insularum). Snail kites are believed to primarily prey on these species of apple snails. The kites fly low over the open marsh, searching for snails which have come to the water surface for air. Once a snail has been snagged using their talons, the kite flies to a tree or shrub to perch. Its uniquely curved beak allows the kite to easily hook the snail's body and pull it out of its shell. This specialized diet severely limits the kite to the shallow and open wetlands of central and south Florida. 

Direct and indirect changes in the existing marsh and wet prairie habitats, such as fragmentation, altered water hydrology, and conversion of suitable habitat to agriculture and urban development, have contributed to the kite's decline. Snail kites appear to use the whole watershed from Kissimmee River to Everglades National Park, including the Refuge. Snail kites are highly nomadic and move north and south in response to local changes in water levels and food supply. Rapidly fluctuating water levels are detrimental to the kite prey sources and unreliable food availability is believed to be a major factor responsible for the declines in snail kite numbers.

Facts About Snail Kite

In North America, these birds are only found in central and southern Florida.

Their primary food source is the native Florida apple snail.

Adults have red eyes, while juveniles have brown eyes.
Page Photo Credits — Snail kites - Charles Slavens
Last Updated: Feb 09, 2017
Return to main navigation