Thursday, March 24, 2011

Snail Kite

While birding in Tabasco, Mexico, in 1964 I took the lower photograph of a male Snail Kite.  This February, in the Everglades National Park, Erika and I followed directions in A Birder's Guide to Florida. We scoped out the marsh behind the abandoned airboat port just west of the Casino next to Shark Valley.  Amazingly, although from quite a distance, a female Snail Kite floated in the air, once or twice diving to the ground.

This raptor is extremely specialized.  In Florida it feeds  almost only on the Florida Applesnail, the largest freshwater gastropod in the country.  Look closely at the left foot of the bird in the photo above--it is carrying an applesnail.  These snails grow to about 60 mm.  The photo below shows the hooked bill this bird uses as a snail-extractor.  Snail Kites tend to be nomadic in south Florida, their presence depending on snail populations and water levels.   Since this kite is also found from Mexico to northern Argentina and the Florida Applesnail is only found in Florida and Cuba, other Snail Kites must specialize on other gastropods.

Notice the fuzzy image of a second bird in the first photo.  At the time, I was too busy taking photos of the Snail Kite to really notice the second bird.  This bird appears to be a Wurdemann's Heron, the hybrid between the Great White and Great Blue Heron.  This intergrade has a Great Blue-colored body and a white head and neck.  We never saw another during our travels.

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