Snail Kites are medium sized hawks that flourish in lowland freshwater marshes like the Everglades. In the Big Cypress basin, snail kites use the Lostmans and Okaloacoochee sloughs, Hinson Marsh, and the East Loop and Corn Dance units of Big Cypress National Preserve. They thrive in shallow open water that is clear and calm.
The males are a blue-gray and the females are soft brown with a longish tail and rounded wings. They're birds of prey, in the same family as other hawks and eagles. They fly with much wing motion, always looking down to search out their favorite food, the pond, or apple snail. Apple snails are a large, freshwater snail, and provide the kite with 99%of it's food.
The snail kite is dependent on the hydrology and the water quality of it's watersheds. Watersheds in southwest Florida have experienced pervasive degradation due to urban development and agricultural.
Drainage of marshland has reduced the habitat of the pond snail, limiting the food supply, and egg taking by collectors in the 1950's drove the number of Snail Kites down, but the species may be rebounding a bit today.
Why Snail Kites? We have a huge population of snails in our yard this year. Recently a large hawk landed in a small space between the house and a mixed border. We wondered what it might have been after. I've been researching the hawk, and because of it's clumsiness, it's red beak and legs, it might have been a snail kite.
Better after a snail than some of the other creatures it might have been! Of course it was gone by the time I got my camera.