When brush is high along levees, opportunities for wildlife viewing may be limited, except for visitors with airboats and tracked vehicles. Wading birds and raptors are common on the area. The best time to see birds is in February near recreational areas along I-75. The endangered snail kite as well as many other birds can be seen year-round from Tamiami Trail at the Miccosukee Restaurant (L67) and at 40-Mile Bend. Although not common residents, the endangered Florida panther and Florida black bear are occasionally found on the area.
The area hosts one of the top 10 wading bird rookeries in the nation and usually supports 10 to 20 pairs of roseate spoonbills and 90 to 100 nesting pairs of wood storks. In general, wading birds can be found throughout the area. However, in the spring months, they tend to concentrate around the last remaining pools of water.
Wildlife Spotlight: Snail Kite
The snail kite, also called the Everglades kite, feeds almost exclusively on freshwater apple snails, extracting them from their shells with its slender, curved bill. This raptor is common in many parts of South and Central America, Mexico, and Cuba and once ranged throughout Florida. Today the snail kite’s North American distribution is limited to freshwater marshes of central and south Florida and is listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
By the 1960s, decades of draining the snail kite’s marsh habitat reduced the Florida population to no more than 25 individuals. The snail kite population has since rebounded, and in the 1990s numbered approximately 700 individuals.
The snail kite is also a good indicator of water quality. Increased nutrients, especially phosphorus from agricultural runoff, result in growth of dense stands of cattails and water hyacinth. Snail kites require relatively open water to see the apple snails and are unable to forage successfully in dense vegetation. Increased nutrients may also have detrimental effects on the apple snails themselves by decreasing oxygen levels in the water.