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threatened and/or endangered

Snail Kite Rostrhamus sociabilis


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Snail Kite, male
credit: Dario Sanchez/CCSA

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Alternate name: Everglades Snail Kite

Family: Accipitridae, Hawks and Eagles view all from this family

Description ADULT MALE Has mainly dark gray plumage (flight feathers are subtly darker), with broad white band at base of relatively short, blackish tail. Legs are orange-red. ADULT FEMALE Has mostly dark brown upperparts, with pale patches on forehead, above and behind eye, and on cheeks; underparts are pale overall, but heavily marked with dark teardrop spots on breast and belly. Shares male's broad white band at base of tail. Legs are orange. JUVENILE Similar to adult female, but with rufous wash to plumage. Legs are dull yellow.

Dimensions Length: 16-18" (41-46 cm); Wngspn: 3' 8" (1.1 m)

Endangered Status The Everglades Snail Kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis plumbeous), the subspecies of the Snail Kite that occurs in the United States, is on the U.S. Endangered Species List. It is classified as endangered in Florida, but the species as a whole is not threatened in most of its range (southward of Florida to South America). The Florida population has become seriously reduced because many of the marshlands that serve as its habitat have been drained in order to develop the land. The loss of marshland means loss of the kite's prey species, the Apple Snail. The choking of marsh waters by water hyacinth also serves to reduce usable habitat for this species, because it hides prey from sight. Apple Snail populations have probably also decreased because of pesticides and other pollutants. Ongoing efforts to maintain habitat and monitor water levels and Apple Snail populations appear to have helped stabilize the Everglades Snail Kite, and there is evidence that it is currently on the increase.

Habitat A mainly South American raptor whose range extends to Caribbean wetlands in Central America; southern Florida represents the northern limit of its world range and here it is an endangered resident, numbering just a few hundred pairs. Wetland habitat loss and degradation (partly through inappropriate water level management) are the species' major threats.

Observation Tips Usually easy to see in Everglades and wetlands around Lake Okeechobee.

Range Florida

Voice Call is a croaking rattle.

Similar Species Hook-billed Kite Chondrohierax uncinatus (W 33-36 in) has a massive, hook-tipped bill used for feeding on tree snails. Broad, rounded wings (narrowing toward base) and long tail are obvious in flight. Adult male is dark overall with barred underparts and white bar and white tip to tail. Other plumages are paler and more heavily barred, females flushed rufous below on body and underwing coverts. Rare resident in Rio Grande valley; Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge is a hotspot.

Discussion Southern Florida and Everglades specialty whose slender and extremely hooked bill is adapted to "winkle out" body of its favorite preyˇapple snails Pomacea sp.ˇfrom shells. The distribution of this wetland mollusk dictates that of the kite. Soars slowly over marshy habitat on broad, rounded wings and flexes tail to assist directional control. Sexes are dissimilar.