We were down in Florida recently to escape the cold and snow swirling around Chicagoland. We’ve been to Florida many times and have seen most of the bird species that are resident there this time of year; one exception was the Snail Kite. We read reports of one in The Villages last year, tried but couldn’t locate it. This year we saw eBird reports about a pair of Snail Kites in Emeralda Marsh, which was on our way to the Villages, so we stopped at their reported location – the boat launch.
As we drove down the road toward the boat launch we saw men in camouflage cutting marsh grasses and arranging them over the gunnels of their small aluminum boats. When we arrived at the launch area we saw many more boats – some were just being taken out of the water and others were being launched. Everyone there had a shotgun and we heard gunshots nearby – a little disconcerting, to say the least. Talking to one of the hunters, he said that they were hunting Blue Winged Teal and Ring-billed Ducks as they were the best tasting of the waterfowl there.
Amidst all the hunting action was a guy with a camera on a tripod – a bird photographer – so we knew we were in the right place. We exchanged greetings with David who was a professional events photographer (concerts, etc). He did nature photography as a way of relaxing between gigs and yes, the Snail Kite was there! David pointed one out in the distance, perched in a low bush. After a few minutes it took off and circled the small lake we were facing. Here are a couple of pictures of it flying – note the sharp hook on its beak – that’s how it pries open the shell of a snail to get at the meat inside.
The Snail Kite flew almost directly over us and then went down to the bank of the lake, grabbed a snail (dark object in the claws below) and perched up on a low branch. A Boat-tailed Grackle harassed the Kite from a safe distance.
After a moment or two the Snail Kite took off from its perch, grasping the snail in its left claw, and headed back to its original perch to enjoy an afternoon snack of escargot! Lifer!
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