Snail Kites and ChizzyWinks

March 4, 2018 at 2:52 pm (Bird photography, Birds- Florida, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Wildlife) (, , )

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Florida snail kite, female

Actually, I thought they were called chisleywinks, but couldn’t find that word, so chizzy wink it is. But more about them in a minute

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Florida snail kite, male

This post is about the endangered Everglade snail kite, which lives in the U.S. only in Florida and eats pretty much only apple snails.

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Female snail kite with leg bands

Because they are endangered in the U.S., many of them wear leg bands, which were likely put on them when they were chicks. The snail kite is common, however, in Latin America.

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Female snail kite with leg bands

This was my third trip with the Kissimmee Swamp Tours folks in Kenansville to see them. The first trip was mid-January 2008, where we saw several in the shrubs on the shallow swamp islands. The late-January 2014 trip was a bust for snail kites, maybe because it was late in the day and just after a rain storm.

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But this trip at 10 a.m. Feb. 18 with friend Marilyn provided more snail kites than I’d previously seen here. The trip to see them is more expensive than their usual airboat tours, and the boat takes fewer people, so you can skip the ubiquitous alligators that always thrill the tourists. (I’ve seen  plenty of gators, thank you.)

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Our guide was GW (or some such two-initial name, I forget) and he was very good at finding them. He also turned off the engine so we could hear their scratchy calls. Several were engaged in nest-building, and egg-laying hadn’t yet started.

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You can hear them on the video I was able to make.

We saw mostly females, which are brown, while the males are slate gray. The guide said they generally build nests in the cattails but disturbances have made them choose nests a little higher off the water now. We did see one nicely constructed nest in the cattails, which the parents weren’t too happy about, so we didn’t linger.

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This female has an apple snail. It’s odd that for a raptor with amazingly strong claws and an enormously hooked beak that their only diet consists of snails that can’t run away, fly away, or fight their way out of capture.

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Due to an invasion of South American apple snails, which are larger than the native apple snails, and which breed more prolifically, there was concern that it would affect the kite’s ability to survive.

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However, there is evidence their bills have grown larger as well, to make it better for them to access the meat in the non-native snails. Good news for the snail kite.

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Bad news is that much of their habitat has been lost to development and agricultural use. Also, Hurricane Irma destroyed all 44 active snail kite nests last fall along Lake Okeechobee. Perhaps that had something to do with the high numbers of kites this year at Kenansville. I’m not sure.




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Apple snail shell

The kites can also be photographed from the boat landing as they fly by with a snail in their beaks. It’s a great location for sighting bald eagles, whooping cranes (on occasion), and other birds of land and water.

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Purple gallinule

The purple gallinule was another prized bird we were able to capture from the boat. GW was good about helping us get good images. We tipped him well.

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There was a bald eagle nest in the swamp, and this one was a mile or so from the boat landing on Joe Overstreet road. You can see one fuzzy white chick. The parent kept watch from a nearby utility pole.

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Now for the chizzy winks. Apparently there had been a prolific hatch overnight, and as is their tendency, they clung to every stationary surface around and flew all around you if you walked through the grass or some other gathering place of theirs. They are non-biting midges, also called “blind mosquitoes” by the locals.  I still think “chisleywink” is a cuter name.

There was also a pair of snail kites well out of photo range at Kissimmee’s Brinson Park, which is on Lake Tohopekaliga. However, if time is limited and you really want to see them up close, go on a tour with Kissimmee Swamp Tours.

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Marilyn, me, and GW

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

Feel free to reblog or share


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