2023—Snail Kite Hunting

We’re back at Lake Kissimmee in Florida to hunt for Snail Kites, particularly those Snail Kites that are hunting for Apple Snails. These Snail Kites are listed as endangered. Their food, native Apple Snails, is being challenged by an invasive Apple Snail from South America. We were told that in recent years, the Snail Kites’ beaks have begun to evolve to enable them to eat the much larger invasive species. But, ironically, the invasive Apple Snail is endangering the aquatic ecosystem where the Snail Kite lives. For now, however, the numbers of Snail Kites are reportedly increasing. Our airboat captain, Mark, is intimately familiar with the lake and its inhabitants, including the Snail Kites that live there. Yesterday was our first day on the Lake and the Snail Kites have learned that when the Mark’s airboat passes through certain areas of the shallows, it stirs up the sediment and helps them find the native Apple Snails. We benefited from this discovery and saw at least seven individual Snail Kites, both male and female on our first day here. We watched them hover in search of snails, then plunge feet first into the shallow edges of the swampy part of the lake and grab a snail in their talons. It was fascinating to watch them fly off with the snail in one talon, then transfer the snail to their beaks to enable them to land on the dried twigs of a swaying dead or leafless bush growing in a tussock (a floating island) where they proceeded to extricate the snail from its shell with their uniquely curved bill, consume it, and drop the shell to the tussock floor beneath them. This banded male hovered near our airboat watching intently for a snail that the boat might have uncovered.

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