Lake Levels Kept High for Nesting Everglades Snail Kites
ORLANDO, Florida, March 4, 2008 (ENS) - The Everglades snail kite is getting some help nesting this year from the South Florida Water Management District. Each year, usually in the middle of March, the district begins to bring down the lakes of the Kissimmee Chain to create the flood storage necessary during the hurricane season, opening June 1.

In recent years, the snail kite has found a home on East Lake and Lake Tohopekaliga. The bird is a locally endangered species in the Florida Everglades, with a population of less than 400 breeding pairs.

Snail kite (Photo by Fernando Biolé)

Both lakes offer the endangered bird its favorite prey - the apple snail - and suitable shoreline vegetation for nesting. According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife research, the kites do better when water levels fall more slowly.

Kites nest over water to keep their eggs away from predators, but rapidly falling lake levels can expose the nests before the young fledge.

Researchers also believe that starting the spring lowering of lake levels early in the nesting season may provide a cue to nesting kites, prompting an expectation of receding water.

For that reason, beginning in 2006, the schedule of how lake levels are managed on East Lake Toho and Lake Tohopekaliga was modified to begin the lake-level recession in mid-February, which allowed the lakes to fall more gradually and in a more kite-friendly fashion.

On East Lake, the low, or summer pool is 55 feet above mean sea level, while Lake Tohopekaliga falls to 52 feet above mean sea level. Once the hurricane season passes, the lakes are allowed to rise to high pool, which is 58 feet on East Lake and 55 feet above mean sea level on Lake Tohopekaliga.

The adjustments to the regulation schedule allow South Florida Water Management District to meet its flood control mandate while offering the kites more favorable nesting conditions.

"We must move water to meet our mission of flood protection," said Eric Buermann, chairman of the district Governing Board. "But because our staff is working closely with researchers at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it appears that we've struck a reasonable solution that serves both our human and winged constituents."

Larry Rosen of the Kissimmee Valley Audubon Society Chapter approves. "Degraded habitat in South Florida has created serious challenges for the Everglades snail kite, so Audubon certainly supports efforts that will improve nesting success on these lakes for this important and endangered species."

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