Mate desertion during the breeding cycle was documented at 28 of 36 (78%) snail kite, Rostrhamus sociabilis nests in Florida between 1979 and 1983. Offspring mortality occurred at only one deserted nest, however. Parents that were deserted by their mates continued to care for their young until independence (3?5 additional weeks) and provided snails at a rate similar to that of both parents combined before desertion. Males and females deserted with nearly equal frequency, except in 1982 when more females deserted. No desertion occurred during drought years, whereas desertion occurred at nearly every nest during favourable conditions. The occurrence of mate desertion was generally related to indirect measures of snail abundance: foraging range, snail delivery rates to the young and growth rates. Small broods were deserted more frequently by females than by males and tended to be deserted earlier than large ones. After desertion, deserters had the opportunity to re-mate and nest again since breeding seasons were commonly lengthy, but whether they did so was impossible to determine conclusively in most cases. The deserted bird sometimes incurred increased energetic costs and lost breeding opportunities during periods of monoparental care.