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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

BirdNote ® – Snail Kite – Bird of the Everglades

Air Date: Week of

Michael Stein describes a unique Florida bird whose survival depends on the ebbs and flows of the region’s wetlands. (Photo: © Tom Grey)


GELLERMAN: Nature likes to go with the flow, but sometimes people get in the way with their bird-brained ideas.


GELLERMAN: In this week’s Birdnote, Michael Stein takes us to one place where the natural flow has been disrupted.


Male Snail Kite with an Apple Snail. (Photo: © Tom Grey)

STEIN: When Florida became a state in 1845, the legislature declared the Everglades - America’s largest wetland - totally worthless. But today, we know how important wetlands are. They soak up storm water. They remove toxic chemicals that contaminate drinking water. And they’re home to a bird called the Snail Kite, which in the United States is found only in south Florida.


STEIN: Over the years, the slowly flowing “River of Grass” has been replaced by a series of reservoirs with little water movement. The remaining Everglades are only half their original size. Before we altered them, they filled during the summer rainy season, and gradually dried out during winter and spring.

Female Snail Kite in flight (Photo: © Tom Grey)

The aptly named Snail Kite feeds only on the Apple Snail. But the snails don’t flourish in places that are permanently under water. They do best with seasonal wet and dry periods, and flowing water.

So, the Snail Kite is endangered in the Everglades, because most remaining habitat is too wet and stagnant. The kite, like the snail, depends on variable flows and wet and dry seasons. It’s a classic boom and bust species - one that thrives when wetlands are allowed to function in a natural way.


GELLERMAN: That’s Michael Stein of BirdNote®. There are some photos of Snail Kites on our website - LOE - dot - org.



Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Snail Kite recorded by G.Vyn and M.J. Fischer. Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary (Audubon) adjacent to Everglades, recorded by G. F. Budney.

BirdNote® Snail Kite – Bird of the Everglades was written by Gordon Orians.


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