The feeding habits of the Snail Kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis) were observed intermittently from 1967-1980 in Florida, USA. Approximately 97% of all observed foraging bouts were over marshes having sparse emergent vegetation. The visually-hunting kite was unable to forage over floating mats of exotic water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes). Male kites had shorter hunting bouts than females. For still-hunting, the birds' perches ranged from 0.15-4.6 m high and captures occurred an average of 5.8 m from perches. Females were significantly more successful (70%) for course-hunting than males (48%), but I found no difference for still-hunting. Birds tended to forage throughout the day, except for occasional inactive periods by some individuals during midday. On cooler days, foraging commenced slightly later in the morning than on warmer days. Kites probably capture freshwater apple snails (Pomacea paludosa) as deep as 16 cm. Capture rates for adults generally ranged from 1.7-3.4 snails per hour. Kites usually foraged over a common hunting area, and defense of foraging sites was rare. Handling of snails, from the kite's arrival at the feeding perch unit consumption, averaged 2.7 min, with no significant difference between sexes. However, adult females were more efficient at the extraction portion of this process than were adult males. Snails were usually extracted before being brought to the nest, except in the latter part of the nestling period when some snails were extracted at or near the nest and some were brought intact. Adults feed small chicks bill to bill, and both parents generally shared equally in care of the young, except at two nests where the females did 67% or more of the feeding. Mean length of snails taken by kites was 42.8 mm (range 25.2-71.3 n=697) and mean diameter was 45.8 mm (range 27.4-82.4, n=697). The most common size classes tkaen were 30-60 mm in length and diameter. Nutritional and gross energy values were determined for apple snails. Female snails with albumen glands removed (versus males or mixed samples of both sexes of complete tissue or with viscera removed) had the highest caloric value (.hivin.x=4.04 kcal/g, n=10). Kites cast pellets, a behavior documented here for the first time.
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The feeding habits of the snail kite in Florida, USA