Snail Kite Family

In my last post, I wrote about a Snail Kite family that we had come across during a morning of photographing Snail Kites on Lake Toho in Kissimmee, Florida last March. In that post I mentioned that we had determined that we were observing an extended family of Snail Kites and that I would write more about our experience in today’s post. Click the images to view larger.

Snail Kites
Juvenile Snail Kite

We came upon this juvenile Snail Kite while boating on the lake on a chilly Saturday morning. At the time, we thought we were photographing a adult female Snail Kite as the markings on this juvenile more closely resemble those on the adult female than on the adult male. Adult males have gray feathers as the predominant color, and given that this was late in March, we didn’t believe that any newly hatched Snail Kites would be up and flying this early in Spring.

Snail Kites

Soon our supposed female was joined by another Snail Kite which we thought was another female. We started questioning whether it would be common to see two females sharing a roost or even being in the same area. Most raptors will chase away competing adults and protect their nesting, roosting and hunting areas. Still it didn’t occur to us that these two were siblings. However, our assumption began to change rather quickly. After joining his sibling, one of the Snail Kites began vocalizing over and over again.

Snail Kites
Snail Kite Vocalizing

The vocalizing continued for a couple of minutes and then suddenly both birds became quite animated.

Snail Kites
Animated vocalizing

Now, I’ve been photographing birds and wildlife for 5 years now and I know very well that a vocalizing bird that suddenly becomes animated obviously sees something that I don’t. I’ve got my eye pressed to the camera, focused on the activity before me and I instinctively know that something special is about to happen. I can’t see what’s going on, and I know not to lift my head and look around. I remain focused as the anticipation of what’s happening begins to pump up the adrenaline. Adrenaline is not good for photography. You want to remain calm and keep the camera locked on the action with no movement whatsoever so that you can get sharp, focused images.

Keep in mind that up to this point I am under the belief that I’m watching two adult female Snail Kites. I’ve completely forgotten how juveniles act when they are about to be fed. I’m expecting a third Snail Kite to come in and compete for the roost.

Boy was I surprised when an actual adult female Snail Kite swooped in with a huge chunk of snail and fed one of the two birds we were watching. The exchange between the adult and the juvenile lasted just seconds. In hindsight I wish I was shooting with my 100-400 instead of the 500 at this point. I wouldn’t have clipped the wings and I likely would have got all 3 birds in the frame. You can see the differences now between the juveniles and the adult. The adult has a red eye, orange legs and has a darker brown color.

Despite my surprise, I kept my eyes glued to the camera and kept shooting.

Snail Kites
Here Comes Breakfast!!

I was able to capture an image of the adult female flying directly towards us with the juvenile in the background with the tasty snail breakfast in his beak. The adult female flew directly overhead and was off on the hunt again. We only saw her 1 more time that morning right around the same time that we saw the adult male and the sub-adult male.

Snail Kites
Mom takes off to hunt for another breakfast morsel

So, although I missed the money shot by clipping the wings when breakfast was being served (not to mention the hideous stick right in front of the adult female), I still had a great morning. Encounters like this are why I tolerate the early mornings and chilly temps. I may not always get the shot, but I sure do have a great time trying. And while I’m 6+ months behind on processing and sharing images, writing this post brings back the memories of that morning and I feel like I’m reliving the encounter all over again.

1 Comment

  • Scott Helfrich

    November 20, 2013 at 8:08 am

    Fantastic Series Michael,Hopefully I can get out there this year