The Everglades Snail Kite

snail kite The Snail Kite (formerly known as the Everglades Snail Kite) was listed as endangered in 1967. Fast forward 49 years, this bird is still on the federal endangered species list and state regulators are being accused of not protecting the species properly. In 2000, there were 3,400 kites around and by 2008 there were only 700.

The snail kite is known for its slender, curved bill. This bill is able to extract the apple snail from its shell for the bird to eat. The snail kite is a medium-sized brown/gray raptor that flies slow with its head tilted down often while it looks for prey. They use their feet to capture the snails that are right below the surface of the water.

This raptor lives along freshwater marshes and manmade lakes. They prefer non-dense vegetation areas, because the openness allows them to easily search for the apple snails. Snail kites are considered nomadic in Florida because they move depending on water depths, food availability, hydroperiod, and other changes in the habitat.

The biggest threat to the snail kite is the loss of the wetlands in Florida. When sewage is disposed through septic tanks and runs off into the water and land, the water quality lowers and exotic and invasive plants grow heavily and reduce visibility of the apple snails in the water. In order to keep the snail kite around, the area’s water stages in lakes in canals to be regulated to certain vegetation is there for the bird’s habitat to exist.

In February, a federal official accused state regulators of not properly protecting the snail kite. In January, heavy rainfall occurred in Florida and was overfilling Lake Okeechobee; the U.S. Army Corps released lots of water from the lake which flowed into estuaries. This flowing of water changed the water level in many areas of the state too quickly, which in turn disrupted the nesting sites of the snail kite. If their nests get swept away from the higher levels of water, they are unable to reproduce. This destruction was caused by an act (the dumping of the water) which was illegally done, because no permit was obtained for this flood control act.

Despite the snail kite’s habitat being completely fragile and vulnerable, numbers have been slowly increase in recent years.

Spot the Snail Kite

This majestic creature has been in trouble for decades but continues to hold on. The snail kite’s specific diet of mainly apple snails makes it hard for the bird to thrive in different areas, since it’s dependent on a watershed with a certain water quality and vegetation.  Although this bird is still around, there’s always the chance it could disappear in the years to come. Book an airboat tour today through the snail kite’s habitat within the Everglades to try and catch a glimpse of this precious, endangered bird. To book a tour, contact Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours at 239-695-3377 or click here.