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Snail Kite

Rostrhamus 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.

male snail kite


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 eyes.

female snail kite

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.

Distribution and Habitat

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.

distribution of snail kites


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 "hunting grounds."


Breeding occurs between February and July, with exact dates being influenced by prevailing weather conditions. Courtship consists of aerobatics and stick-carrying displays.

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 second clutch.

Conservation Status

The snail kite is endangered throughout its range, due primarily to loss of habitat.

Scientific Classification

Phylum Chordata
Subphylum Vertebrata
Class Aves
Order Falconiformes
Family Accipitridae
Genus & Species Rostrhamus sociabilis

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The Robinson Library >> Science >> Zoology >> Birds >> Order Falconiformes

This page was last updated on September 14, 2017.