Readers’ wildlife photos

Reader Paul Peed, whose are available at Instagram and eBird, sent us some photos of a raptor we don’t see often here: the snail kite.  His notes are indented. (Note the curved and asymmetrical beak in the penultimate photo.)

Raptors at T. M. Goodwin Waterfowl Management Area Series

Snail Kite

The Snail Kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis) feeds almost exclusively on Apple Snails, a Central And South Florida wetlands large mollusk.  A drought in the Everglades system in south Florida forced the Snail Kite north to the T.M. Goodwin Waterfowl Management Area.

Juvenile Snail Kite

Female Snail Kites are only slightly larger than males but they can easily be sexed by color although it is difficult to separate juveniles from female adults as they have nearly the same coloration.

Female Snail Kite

Degradation of habitat in the Snail Kite’s previously productive areas has resulted in endangered species status for this Kite.  Wetlands degradation has impacted the Apple Snail population with foreseeable results on the Snail Kite.

Male Snail Kite

Note the identification bands on the male and female images.  Because the Snail Kite is a system-wide indicator species, they are carefully captured, banded and tracked.

Amateur citizen scientists and professionals have noticed Snail Kites preying on Black Crappies and crayfish when snail populations are low. The bird’s curved beak is slightly off-center to allow it to easily extract the snail from its spiraled shell  This modification will (I assume) limit alternative prey.

Beak Modification

The Apple Snail

 

10 Comments

  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted February 10, 2019 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    Artistic and scientific – nice

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted February 10, 2019 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

      + 1.

      Striking birds too.

  2. Christopher
    Posted February 10, 2019 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    There was some discussion a few years ago about the effects of non-native snails in Florida lakes. The snails were larger than the usual snail kite’s prey which hindered their ability to hold them in order to extract them. The biggest effects were seen with the juvenile kites who, being less experienced, dropped them more often, So they were unable to eat as much as they needed. I wonder whether this might drive behavioral or morphological adaptations and eventually evolution in the snail kites.

    Great photos, thanks for sharing a somewhat unusual species with us.

  3. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted February 10, 2019 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    Very interesting! I was only vaguely aware of this bird before now. Thanks!

  4. Diana MacPherson
    Posted February 10, 2019 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    I’ve had Apple Snails in aquariums before. They can get pretty big and put quite a bio load on your filters but you do regularly see them for sale at local aquarium shops.

  5. Posted February 10, 2019 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    Glad to hear that the Snail Kite is willing to try other foods. They are a cute species and deserve to survive. 😉

  6. Josh Lincoln
    Posted February 10, 2019 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful photos of a great bird.

  7. danfromm
    Posted February 10, 2019 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Re Snail Kite distribution, see https://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/Species-Account/nb/species/snakit

    The first time I visited Paraguay was in September, ’92. That was a flood year. The lower Chaco was flooded for at least 150 km from the Rio Paraguay. There was a Snail Kite on the wire between most pairs of utility poles along the Trans-Chaco highway from near the river to the end of the marshes.

  8. rickflick
    Posted February 10, 2019 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    Extraordinary bird. In additions to the beak, the talons look as if they might be specialized too. Very thin and long, perhaps for digging the snail from it’s shell.

  9. Posted February 11, 2019 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the scale-coin in the snail picture – I would have otherwise no sense of how big these shells are.


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