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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

Snail Kite -- Rostrhamus sociabilis
(formerly Everglade Kite)

RANGE: Resident in southern Florida, primarily at Lake Okeechobee and Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, and locally throughout the Everglades basin and the upper St. John's River.

STATUS: Endangered due to habitat destruction, hunting, and drought.

HABITAT: Highly specialized; inhabits permanent freshwater marshes with broad expanses of cattails, sawgrass, or other tall, emergent grasses, and with scattered clumps of bushes or small trees with a low and distant horizon for visibility.

SPECIAL HABITAT REQUIREMENTS: A permanent water source supporting adequate quantities of the apple snail.

NEST: Often nests in loose colonies, sometimes in or adjacent to colonies of herons, egrets, and anhingas. Males construct nests up to 8 feet above water in cattails, reeds, or bulrushes, or in willows or other shrubs or trees growing in water. Also nests in areas with tree islands dominated by dead trees and shrubs, or on artificial nest platforms.

FOOD: Feeds exclusively on the apple snail, which it sights while flying slowly low over water, or while perching on an old stake, a mound of aquatic debris, or a cattail clump.

REFERENCES: Brown and Amadon 1968, Heintzelman 1979, Mackenzie 1977, Sprunt 1955, Stieglitz and Thompson 1967, Terres 1980.

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