Hungryland and Florida’s weirdest hawk

My sister and I were texting and she asked what I was up to for the rest of the day. I said, “We’re heading out in the Jeep to a place called Hungryland.” She said, “Is that a restaurant?” Ha!

It would be a great name for a restaurant but it’s actually a WEA, a Florida Wildlife and Environmental Area. A restaurant for wildlife!

The John C. and Mariana Jones/Hungryland WEA comprises more than 16,600 acres in Martin and Palm Beach counties, seven miles west of Jupiter. Google maps location HERE.

From Wild South Florida

Jones Hungryland Wildlife and Environmental Area is a series of vast wet meadows and slash pine flatwoods, places that are wet even at the height of the dry season. The WEA and surrounding lands are part of the historic Hungryland Slough, an inhospitable place that gave refuge to Seminoles fleeing the U.S. Army during the mid-1800s. Later, it became cattle country and in the 1960s, was the proposed site of a housing development; builders dug a canal network through the site in an attempt to drain the land. Fortunately for us, they failed to file proper plans, Martin County successfully sued to stop the project and the land eventually ended up in state hands during the 1990s as the John C. and Mariana Jones Hungryland Wildlife and Environmental Area, preserved for all time.

More on Hungryland from Wild South Florida HERE.

We were Jeeping along next to the main canal when I spotted a raptor overhead and called for my husband to stop.

I snapped a few quick photos and this was my best shot…

It was a Snail Kite. I believe this is a juvenile, or maybe a female. Adult males are slate gray with white underneath.

It’s a bird that birders who travel to Florida definitely want to add to their life lists. Here is the range map for Snail Kites…

What is most notable about Snail Kites is that their diet is almost exclusively snails. Yes, escargot is on the menu at the Hungryland wildlife restaurant.

From All About Birds (Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

The highly specialized Snail Kite flies on broad wings over tropical wetlands as it hunts large freshwater snails. These handsome gray-and-black raptors have a delicate, strongly curved bill that fits inside the snail shells to pull out the juicy prey inside. Unlike most other raptors, Snail Kites nest in colonies and roost communally, sometimes among other waterbirds such as herons and Anhingas. They are common in Central and South America but in the U.S. they occur only in Florida and are listed as Federally Endangered.

A snail-eating hawk? The world is full of wonders.

Snail Kites do not plunge into the water to capture snails and never use the bill to capture prey. Rather, they use their feet to capture snails at or below the surface of the water.

Snail Kite habitat consists of freshwater marshes and the shallow vegetated edges of natural and manmade lakes where apple snails can be found. Snail Kites require foraging areas that are relatively clear and open so that they can visually search for apple snails. Dense vegetation is not conducive to efficient foraging. Nearly continuous flooding of wetlands is needed to support apple snail populations that in turn sustain foraging by Snail Kites. Disposal of domestic sewage through septic tanks and runoff of nutrient-laden water from agricultural lands degrade the water quality and promote dense growth of exotic and invasive plants such as cattail, water lettuce, water hyacinth, and hydrilla, thereby reducing the ability of Snail Kites to locate apple snails.

Clean water is good for everybirdy.

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