This past March, I had an opportunity to go out on Lake Toho near Kissimmee, Florida for a morning of photographing Snail Kites. In the US, Snail Kites are only found in Central and South Florida. They are far more common in Central and South America but are considered endangered in Florida. The primary reasons are loss of habitat and loss of their primary food source. Snail Kites live on or near fresh water and feed on apple snails. Unfortunately apple snails are being pushed out by a larger exotic cousin that has been introduced into Florida’s fresh water lakes. On the plus side, nature seems to be working to the kite’s advantage as there is more and more evidence that Snail Kites are feeding on the larger exotic snails too. This is a good sign and hopefully the species will continue to rebound in our state. Click the images to view larger.
Snail Kites can be seen from the shoreline on several lakes in Central Florida. Since they nest in the reeds away from the shoreline, the chances of seeing them from the shoreline are somewhat hit and miss. There are better opportunities to view them by boat, but there are limitations and restrictions there as well. Being an endangered species, there are restrictions to how close you can come to their prime nesting areas. These areas are well marked and enforced by wildlife officials to protect the species. However, from the boundaries of the protected areas, you can still get some great views as the birds don’t necessarily understand the boundaries when they are up and hunting.
On our particular outing, we were extremely fortunate to come across 5 unique individuals; 2 adults, 1 sub-adult male and 2 recently fledged juveniles. We found them quite by accident as we were scouting the lake and a considerable distance from any restricted areas. We saw what we later determined to be a juvenile flying near the boat and watched as he settled down in the reeds just ahead of us. We let the boat drift silently towards the resting Snail Kite and waited to see if we could get some flight shots. After about 10 minutes, he took flight again spending much of his flight time so that we had the sun to our backs (good bird!). Eventually, his sister started flying around and the two of them would alternately fly and return to rest in the same area over and over again. We had plenty of opportunities to photograph them as they honed their flight skills (and chased away the Boat-tailed Grackles!). Eventually we were privileged to see their mom, dad and older brother make appearances all in the same area. It was a day filled with great opportunities and one I hope I can repeat again next Spring.
In my next post, I’ll tell the story of the squabbling siblings and how we came to the conclusion that we were in fact photographing an extended family of Snail Kites.