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Identifying Snail Kite

Snail Kite
Snail Kite, male, adult or near adult. April in Osceola County, Florida. Photo by Brian E. Small

Upon hearing that there are birds called “kites,” many people assume they must have been named for the kind of kite you fly on a string. Actually, it’s the other way around. The birds were named first, and the paper contraptions were named because they floated on the wind like those birds.

Kites belong to the hawk family, but they are not all closely related, and they have different shapes, habits, and diets. Of the five kites found regularly north of Mexico, for example, the White-tailed Kite swoops down to catch rodents, while the Mississippi Kite mostly pursues large insects in midair. Then there’s the Snail Kite. Gliding low and slow above marshes, it has no need for speed, since snails make up close to 100 percent of its diet.

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Kenn Kaufman

Kenn Kaufman

Kenn Kaufman is an expert birder and naturalist, a talented artist and photographer, a world traveler, and the author of many books about birds and other wildlife. His column “ID Tips” appears in every issue of BirdWatching. Kenn is also a field editor for Audubon Magazine and a contributor to Birds and Blooms. His work first appeared in Birder’s World (now BirdWatching) in April 1988. Visit his website, Kaufman Field Guides.

Kenn Kaufman on social media

Brian E. Small

Brian E. Small

Brian Small is a Los Angeles-based bird and nature photographer whose photos appear in the “ID Tips” column in every issue of BirdWatching. His work has been published in Time, The New York Times, Audubon, Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife, Wildlife Conservation, and many other publications. His photos also illustrate many field guides, including Kenn Kaufman’s Birds of North America, a series of state bird identification guides published with the American Birding Association, and his own Eastern and Western photographic field guides to the birds of North America published in 2009 with author Paul Sterry and Princeton University Press.

Brian E. Small on social media