July 6, 2008

Snail Kites Disappearing From Everglades

A measure taken to protect one endangered bird in the Florida Everglades, the Cape Sable seaside sparrow, may be driving the Everglades snail kite out.

The most recent survey of the kites found few of them living in the Everglades or Lake Okeechobee, the source of the River of Grass, The Miami Herald reported. Most of the nesting pairs spotted were 100 miles to the north in a chain of lakes in central Florida.

The counters said numbers may have dropped by two-thirds since 2000 to fewer than 1,000 birds.

The situation is dire. It's critical, said Wiley Kitchens of the University of Florida, who heads the annual surveys. The birds are simply not replacing themselves.

The Miccosukee Tribe blames the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Joette Lorian, a tribal spokeswoman, said closing floodgates on the Tamiami Trail to protect sparrow nesting sites drowns habitat north of the trail for the apple snail, the snail kite's principal food.

Paul Souza, a field supervisor with the Fish and Wildlife Service, said the problem is out of the government's control. He said two years of drought have killed off many of the snails, leading to the drastic drop in the kite population.