Unlike other raptors, the Everglades Snail Kite has evolved over time to feed on one source of food, the apple snail. Soaring over the wetlands, they use their broad wings to minimize exertion and constantly scan the vegetation in search of a gastropod about the size of a ping pong ball. With robust populations in South Florida the Everglades Snail Kite once occupied the entire watershed, gorging on the aquatic snails.
Over the last century, however, the state worked hard to drain the Everglades to make way for agriculture and development. In a matter of decades snail populations crashed and so followed the snail kites. Today, there are only an estimated 400 nesting pairs left in the Everglades.
In recent years, scientists have noticed a steady rise in snail kite populations. Their findings couldn't be more surprising. Beneath the nests and shell middens of the iconic raptors, are enormous piles of an exotic snail from South America, the island apple snail. A more prolific reproducer and bigger species, the invasive snails are providing a much more lucrative food source for the snail kites.
In a time where the state is spending millions of dollars to eradicate and control exotic species, one in particular is helping to support the struggling populations of south Florida's most iconic bird.
This photo series includes habitat images as well as ground-breaking coverage of snail kites hunting snails at the top of the water column using a remote camera trap. Additional video footage is also available for online content.