sociabilis (aka Everglade Kite, Black Kite,
Hook-Billed Kite, Snail Hawk) Rostrhamus comes
from the Latin words rostrum, meaning beak, and
hamus, meaning hook. Sociabilis refers to the
bird's sociable nature of nesting in colonies.
The snail kite has a body
length of 16 to 18 inches, a wingspan of almost
four feet, and a weight of 12 to 14 ounces.
Adult males are slate gray with black head and
wing tips, a white patch at the base of a square
tail, and red legs. The female has a buffy body,
heavily streaked with dark lines, a white line
above the eye, a white tail patch, yellow legs,
and red eyes. Immature snail kites resemble the
females, except for being darker and having brown
The distinguishing characteristic of the snail
kite is its beak, which is slender and very
hooked. The beak is specially adapted to the
snail kite's primary diet -- freshwater snails.
Snail kites are found in tropical and
subtropical lowland swamps and marshes with scant
vegetation. They range from South America through
Central America, on a few Caribbean islands, and
in extreme southern Florida.
The snail kite gets its name
from its primary food source -- snails. It will
also eat fresh water crabs, turtles, and small
rodents if snails are not available. It generally
hunts from a perch or by flying low over suitable
Breeding occurs between
February and July, with exact dates being
influenced by prevailing weather conditions.
Courtship consists of aerobatics and
Snail kites nest in colonies in
trees. The nest is built of sticks on a thin
branch three to ten feet above the water. Two to
four eggs are laid per clutch, and are incubated
by both parents for 26 to 28 days. Young kites
fledge at six to seven weeks old, and become
sexually mature in less than a year.
The female may desert the male
and leave him to finish raising the nestlings,
while she searches for a new mate to raise a
The snail kite is endangered
throughout its range, due primarily to loss of
Genus & Species Rostrhamus sociabilis
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