Snail kite

Snail kite
Rostrhamus sociabilis

(Photo from Ciencia de Cuba)

Common name:
snail kite (en); gavião-caramujeiro (pt); milan des marais (fr); caracolero común (es); schneckenweih (de)

Order Falconiformes
Family Accipitridae

This species is found from Florida and southern Mexico, through parts of the Caribbean and Central America and through most of South America as far south as southern Brazil and northern Argentina. They are mostly found east of the Andes, the only exceptions being coastal Ecuador and south-western Colombia.

These birds are 36-48 cm long and have a wingspan of 100-120 cm. They weigh 300-570 g.

The snail kite is found near freshwater lakes, marshes and other bodies of water, including flooded grasslands and rice fields. They favours areas with low vegetation and scattered scrubs or small trees. They are present from sea level up to an altitude of 1.800 m.

They are specialized on freshwater snails, particularly Pomacea and Ampullaria. They also hunt small turtles, crabs and crayfish, but only when snails are not available.

Snail kites can breed all year round and can be either monogamous or polygamous. They nest in colonies and often re-use old nests abandoned in previous years. The nest is a bulky, loose cup made of sticks, unlined and placed on a small tree or scrub, 1-3 m above the water. The female lays 2-4 buffy white eggs with brown splotches, which are incubated by both parents for 27-28 days. The chicks are fed by both parents and fledge 2 months after hatching.

IUCN status – LC (Least Concern)
This species has an extremely large breeding range and is described as locally common. Some populations may be increasing, while other are being negatively impacted by habitat loss through wetland drainage, excessive use of pesticides and hunting.

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