Mac Stone | Everglades Snail Kite

Throughout its history in the United States, the Everglades Snail Kite thrived in South Florida with access to endless marsh and productive wetlands. In the 20th century, however, efforts to drain the Everglades to make way for sugarcane and development sent the iconic raptor spiraling into decline and landing on the endangered species list. One of the most specialized diets of any raptor, the kites feed almost exclusively on an aquatic gastropod, the apple snail. Their broad wings allow them to soar effortlessly over the wetlands scanning for a needle in a haystack. Coming out of the water only to breed and lay eggs, the snails are vulnerable for a short amount of time. Using their elongated talons and sickle-shaped bill, they are able to pull the snail out of its shell without getting wet. With the wetlands drained and degraded, their only food source was decimated. State and federal agencies scrambled to restore areas around Lake Okeechobee, their main breeding and foraging grounds but it proved only a bandaid to a much larger problem. Then, recently, an invasive snail from South America began infiltrating the Everglades through the pet trade. The Brazilian Island Apple Snail reproduces much faster and has thrived in the wetlands. Soon, snail kites began targeting the larger foreign snails and their populations have begun to rebound. Nesting success rates are higher and this new food source, although an invasive species, appears to be a blessing in disguise rehabilitating one of the Everglades' most iconic birds. Time will tell what affects these invasive snails have on the surrounding ecology, but for now, the raptors seem to benefit. To see a behind the scenes video on this story click here.