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Snail Kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis)



Snail Kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis)
Order: Falconiformes, Family: Accipitridae

Snail Kites can be found in both South and Central America. Some are also found in Mexico and Cuba. The United States also has a small population concentrated in Florida. Mass: 340 to 567 g. Snail kites are medium-sized hawks, weighing from 12-20 oz. They are about 14-16 inches long and have a wingspan of 43-36 inches. The females are very slightly smaller than the male.



I. GEOGRAPHIC RANGE
  • Snail Kites can be found in both South and Central America. Some are also found in Mexico and Cuba. The United States also has a small population concentrated in Florida.
II. PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS
  • Mass: 340 to 567 g.
  • Snail kites are medium-sized hawks, weighing from 12-20 oz. They are about 14-16 inches long and have a wingspan of 43-36 inches. The females are very slightly smaller than the male.
  • They are sexually dimorphic in color. Males are traditionally slate gray with brown on the upper wing, with orange legs. Females are brown with white streaks (on face, chest, throat) and yellowish legs. Both male and female snail kites have red eyes, a squarely tipped tail that is dark in color with a white base and a slender, curved, hooked, black bill. When they are young, the birds resemble females.
III. FOOD HABITS
  • Traditionally the snail kites feed on apple snails found in freshwater. The apple snails are about an inch and a half across. Sometimes they will also hunt small turtles, however this is only when apple snails are scarce due to natural disasters.
  • Snail kites catch prey by hunting from the air, flying slowly and close to the ground. They swoop down from about twenty feet in the air and pull the snails from the water. The bird grabs the snail with one foot, but is sometimes forced to place as much as its belly into the water. However, it always tries to avoid getting wet, especially its tail. It carries the apple snail away with its long, sharp claws. The snail kite often misses its prey, but it is accustomed to many attempts in order to sustain itself.
  • It removes the snail from the shell using its curved bill, which is slender in size, while perching on one foot, the other foot holding the snail.
IV. REPRODUCTION
  • Traditionally, snail kites have a mating season from February until June. The mating season varies due to weather conditions. However, it isn't uncommon for them to mate at other times during the year as well.
  • The courtship process includes a variety of aerobatics and stick-carrying displays. The males perform short ascents and descents through the air while beating their wings slowly. After this, the females invite the males to bring her food and other necessities, particularly those used in nest building.
  • The nests, made of loose, bulky material, are usually formed in a colony they rarely construct individual nests. The nests are traditionally about 13 inches in diameter and about 3 to 10 ft above the water.
  • Two to four eggs are laid, on average, and can be white, brown or spotted. The eggs must be incubated for 27 or 28 days. Both parents participate in the incubation process of the eggs, as well as raising the newborns. Parents feed their children for about 2 months.
  • It is common for snail kites to have multiple mating partners.
V. BEHAVIOR
  • The bird protects its nest by making a cackling cry ("kor-ee-ee-a, kor-ee-ee-a"). Its cries are very low and can only be heard locally. During courtship, its cries sound almost sheep-like noise.
  • The bird's flight is a lot less graceful than other birds. It almost appears like a heron. This is due to the fact that the bird has large, broad wings, yet a very slender, weak body. They are often seen perching on fence posts, telephone poles and telegraph wires. They fly over marshes by beating their wings slowly while looking for apple snails at a height of 25 to 100 ft.
  • They are often very social when roosting. Groups often fly for several miles together with the goal to roost. They roost in leafless bushes (surrounded by water) in groups of 15 or 20 individuals. They congregate around dusk. Together, they rest and preen.
VI. HABITAT
  • Snail kites reside near freshwater lakes, marshes and other bodies of water. They usually live where there is a large body of water and can be found in small vegetation, such as sawgrass and spikerush. In particular, they inhabit sloughs, flats and other such areas that contain apple snails. Also, the areas must contain scattered shrubs and trees in order for the hawks to make nesting sites. The birds often migrate from one area to another.
VIII. CONSERVATION
  • The snail kite is considered threatened because of the loss of their habitat. Widespread drainage has caused the water table to be lowered permanently. This drainage has increased the areas available for development, in particular, the habitats of snail kites.
  • They are threatened by a large infestation of water hyacinth. These plants are very dense and form on top of the water's surface. As a result, the snail kites are unable to identify apple snails. This results in a lower feeding area, and therefore the snail kites are unable to feed regularly.
  • Pesticides and nutrient-runoff from nearby areas, particularly from construction, have affected the snail kite's habitat. This has caused a disruption in their environment.
  • There have been cases of humans shooting the snail kites.
  • The snail kite was first designated as endangered on March 11, 1967. Its current IUCN status is "endangered."



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