Hydrology frequently has been reported as the environmental variable having the greatest influence on Florida snail kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis) populations. Although drought has received the most attention, high-water conditions also have been reported to affect kites. Years of high water generally have been reported to be favorable for nesting, although prolonged high water may be detrimental to sustaining suitable habitat. During 1994 and 1995, southern Florida experienced an extreme high water event. This event enabled us to compare survival, nesting success, number of young per successful nest, and spatial distribution of nesting before, during, and after the event. We found no evidence of an effect (either negative or positive) on survival of adult kites. In contrast, juvenile kites experienced the highest survival during the event, although our data suggest greater annual variability than can be explained by the event alone. We found no evidence of an effect of the high water event on nest success or number of young per successful nest. Nest success was highest during the event in the southern portion of the range but was quite similar to other years, both before and after the event. Our data do indicate a substantial shift in the spatial distribution of nesting birds. During the event, nesting activity shifted to higher elevations (i.e., shallower water) in the major nesting areas of the Everglades region. Nesting also occurred in Big Cypress National Preserve during the event, which is typically too dry to support nesting kites. Thus, our data indicate a potential short-term benefit of increased juvenile survival and an expansion of nesting habitat. However, the deterioration of habitat quality from prolonged high water precludes any recommendation for such conditions to be maintained for extended periods. ?? 2002, The Society of Wetland Scientists.
Additional publication details
Influence of an extreme high water event on survival, reproduction, and distribution of snail kites in Florida, USA