ABSTRACT

The Snail Kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis plumbeus) is a wetland-dependent raptor that feeds primarily on aquatic apple snails (Pomacea sp.). In the United States, Snail Kites are endangered and breed exclusively in south and central Florida. Here we report that in 2018 and 2019, Snail Kites bred approximately 175 km north-northwest of the current northernmost breeding range. We combine historical and present information to interpret this new breeding event. Breeding occurred at Payne's Prairie Preserve State Park, an isolated wetland in Alachua County, Florida, USA, that was impacted in 2017 by high water levels due to Hurricane Irma and invasion of exotic apple snails (P. maculata). Counts of Snail Kites within the area rose steadily throughout 2018 and 2019 from 1 to a high of 84 individuals. We discovered 3 nests with eggs or chicks in 2018, and 75 nests in 2019, with nest success rates of 100% and 40%, respectively. To our knowledge, sightings within the county from 1968 to 2017 occurred on only 7 occasions, and nesting was observed only once, in 1919. From 2005 to 2019, the extent of Snail Kite breeding in counties across Florida was greater than previous years. However, long-term range expansion may depend on maintenance of wetland conditions as well as a number of factors including snail availability, drought, hydrology, predation, and temperature.

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