Category Archives: Birds, Fish & Other Critters

Burmese Python Elimination Program

The state of Florida  and South Florida Water Management District  has begun a Burmese Python Elimination Program. The Burmese Python Snake is a reptile that came to Florida from S.E. Asia from the pet import business that thrives in Miami and South Florida. It became a threat to the people of S. Florida and native animal species in the Everglades after they were released by pet owners and the release of snakes after the damage that was done by Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

Burmese Python Snakes can grow  to over 20 feet in length and up to two hundred pounds during their lifetime. Females can lay 100 eggs at a time. The main problem with these snakes is they have no known predators and they can eat and devour animals as big as deer and alligators. They have been decimating the small bird and mammal population in South Florida which makes it harder for other mammals and carnivores such as the Florida Panther to find enough food to feed themselves.

The recent program started by The SFWMD to eliminate the Burmese Python  is to pay hunters $50 for each Python they catch up to four feet in length and an additional $25 for each ft over 4 ft. An eight foot Python would bring a hunter $150 in bounty. An additional $100 reward would be paid to a hunter who catches a female guarding a nest of eggs. The program has resulted in over 53 snakes caught and eliminated since the pilot program began this year.  To learn more about the Burmese Python, visit the National Park Service website. The pictures shown above are courtesy of the South Florida Water Management District. Click on the pictures for larger images.

 

 

 

 

 

Mottled Ducks

Mottled Duck and Chicks

Mottled Duck and Chicks

 

 

 

 

 

 

I saw and photographed this brood of Mottled Ducks on Sanibel Island swimming in a freshwater pond swimming on  its way with a dozen or so chicks following in tow. It was amazing to see such a large number of chicks in one group. It is common for a Mottled Duck to have 5-13 eggs in one season.

The Mottled Duck is similar to the Mallard Duck and is in danger of becoming extinct as a unique species because of its mating with the Mallard and subsequent hybridization. The Mottled Duck has an all brown body with a lighter colored head and neck. Its habitat is mostly freshwater wetlands and wet prairies and marshes.  It also has a distinctive greenish, bluish streak on its back,

According to the All About Birds website, its diet consists of seeds of grasses, aquatic vegetation, invertebrates and small fishes. This duck is different than other duck species because it does not travel in large groups but is instead seen in pairs or by itself. Like other animal species, its main threat is loss of habitat. The U.S. has seen a large decrease in the size and number of wetlands areas over the past 50-100 years.

The Audubon Society is an organization devoted  protecting birds of all kinds from over hunting and loss of habitat. Click on their website to learn more of the Mottled Duck and the mission of the Audubon Society. You can also see a larger image of the ducks in the photo by clicking on the photo.

 

 

 

 

Common Gallinule and Mottled Duck

Two duck like birds that I often see in S.W. Florida are the Common Gallinule and Mottled Duck.

The Common Gallinule shown in the picture above also known as the Common Moorhen has a dark body, and red bill and often swims in ponds, lakes, streams and other wetland bodies, feeding upon seeds of grasses and sometimes snails. It is able to walk on top of aquatic vegetation or mud flats with its long toes.  It is also an excellent swimmerand will dip its head in the water looking for food. The Common Gallinule makes a loud screeching call and sound and can be reproduced on the All About Birds website. It is listed on the threatened list of birds in America because of predation by other animals and loss of habitat.

The Mottled Duck is distinguished by its multi-colored feathers on its body, green bluish colors on its tail, lighter colored neck and head and yellow bill. Its picture is also shown above. Like the Common Gallinule, it also makes its habitat in fresh water marshes, ponds, lakes and estuaries. It feeds upon the seeds of grasses, aquatic vegetation, small fish and marine invertebrates.  The Mottled Duck is in danger of becoming extinct because of its breeding with the similar Mallard Duck which produces a hybrid version of the Mottled Duck. It is also hunted throughout the United States for sport. You can learn more about the Mottled Duck and Common Gallinule  on the All About Birds or Florida Audubon websites.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gopher Tortoise

I came across this Gopher Tortoise while riding my bicycle on Sanibel Island along the Sanibel-Captiva Rd.  The Gopher Tortoise was slowly crawling along a grassy area and eating grass. This reptile is a land dwelling animal and lives in a burrow that it digs for itself with its’ strong claws.

The burrow that it digs averages 6.5 feet deep and 15 feet long. The burrow provides refuge or habitat for up to 350 other species. The Gopher Tortoise is called a keystone species for this reason because of its importance for helping to insure the survival of other species in its ecosystem.  The animals that typically live in the Gopher’s burrow include burrowing owls, rattlesnakes, crickets and many others.

The habitats that this reptile lives in include dry uplands, sandhills, pine flatwoods, scrub, dry prairies, xeric hammocks, pine mixed hardwoods and coastal dunes. They depend on natural fires to burn away the brush, dead leaves and shrubs so that new plants and grasses can grow. The Gopher Tortoise has been around for a long time and its estimated to date back  60 milliion years. The Gopher Tortoises’ life time averages 40-60- years.

The Gopher Tortoise itself is as a threatened species in Florida and is protected by the laws of the state against poaching or hunting.  No land clearing or development can take place in an area where a tortoise lives unless it is relocated to a similar environment and permits are issued for its relocation. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has additional information about this animal. http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/gopher-tortoise/

Click on the pictures above for larger images.

 

 

 

 

Yellow Crowned Night Heron at Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve

Yellow Crowned Night Heron at Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve

Yellow Crowned Night Heron at Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Yellow Crowned Night Heron pictured here at Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve on Sanibel Island, Florida is one of two Herons in the Americas, the other being the Black Crowned Night Heron. They have a pretty display of gray and purple feathers on their body and black and white stripes on their head. The Yellow Crowned Night Heron that I photographed above was wading through the mangrove forests which are located throughout the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge.

This bird looks for its prey which consists of crustaceans or crayfish and small crabs during the day or night. The Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve consists of tidal saltwater lakes and marshes which contain plenty of food for the Herons and other birds to eat. There is a road which winds its way through part of the preserve and many people make the trip to see the year round and migratory birds that visit here.

Ding Darling Preserve was named after cartoonist Jay Norwood Darliing who convinced then President Harry S. Truman to include it as part of the U.S. Wildlife Preserve system in the U.S. in 1945. Jay Norwwod Darling was fighting to protect environmentally sensitive land in SW Florida from being developed. It is now the largest environmentally protected mangrove system in the U.S. and is famous for its collection of migratory birds who fly south during the winter.

Cornell Univ. School of Ornithology has a good website called “All About Birds” where you can look and find out about more information about the Yellow Crowned Night Heron and other birds. Click on the picture for a larger viewing image.

 

 

 

 

Red Shouldered Hawk

The Red Shouldered Hawk is a  medium sized hawk that can be found along the eastern portion of the U.S., California and northern Mexico.They are raptors and hunt by swooping down from elevated positions in trees and the sky and eat fish, mice, snakes, crustaceans, snakes , frogs and other small animals. They grab their prey with their sharp and strong talons (clawed feet) and tear apart their prey with their sharp bills.

The All About Birds website created by the Cornell Univ. lab of Ornithology has very useful information about how to identify this bird , its life history and sounds that it makes. Click on  the Sound tab in the website and listen to its calls and sounds.

The Red Shouldered Hawk likes to inhabit areas in forests with tall trees and near water where a plentiful supply of fish and land animals can be found. It is very distinguishable from other birds by its white and brown checkered wings, reddish streaks on its wings and whitish belly.

Female Red Shouldered Hawks can lay up to 3-4 eggs per year. The female sits on the eggs during incubation period, usually 33 days. After the young hawks hatch they are cared for and watch by their mother for another 1-3 weeks in the nest. The male hawk will bring food to the mother and young during this time. The hatchlings will remain in the nest for about 5-7 weeks and be fed by their parents for 8-10 weeks.

Another good website to learn about Red Shouldered Hawks is the Audubon.org website. Click on the pictures above for a larger view.

 

 

http://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/red-shouldered-hawk

 

 

 

 

Great White Egret

Great White Egrets are tall white birds that have an impressive wingspan and live mainly near wetlands of the U. S.  The Great White Egret hunts for its food, usually a diet consisting of fish, frogs and small marine life by wading through shallow water basins and grabbing or stabbing its prey with it sharp bill.

The White Egret is the national symbol of the Audubon Society which helped birds of  all kinds from becoming extinct by lobbying Congress and protecting them from hunters. Their white feathers were once a prized adornment for hats in the late 1800’s.

The birds shown above were photographed in a neighborhood  in Ft. Myers, Fla. and at the Ding Darling National Wildlife Preserve on Sanibel Island.

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Great_Egret/lifehistory

Visit the website above for more information about the Great White Egret. Click on one of the pictures for larger images.

 

Snowy Egret

         The Snowy Egret is a small white heron with an impressive plumage of white feathers. Another distinctive feature are their yellow webbed feet and black bills. Its feathers were once prized by the fashion industry for decorating women’s hats. In 1866, the Snowy Egrets feathers were worth $32 an ounce which was twice the price of gold at the time.

The Snowy Egret became an endangered species because of the popularity of its feathers and organizations like the Audubon Society had to step in to protect this bird from extinction. The Snowy Egret population has increased in significant numbers and are no longer listed on the endangered list but are still on the list of bird species of “high concern.”

            The Snowy Egret has migrated to northern states and can be seen in many states in the northeast, along the Gulf Coast and in the western portion of the U.S.  Wading Birds like the Snowy Egret spend much of their time foraging for food such as small fish, insects and crustaceans in shallow water streams, swamps, marshes and tidal flats. They inhabit and feed on freshwater and saltwater fish.

            Snowy Egrets lay about 3-5 eggs per year and both the male and female birds take turns incubating and feeding their young. It takes about 20-25 days for the eggs to hatch and they leave their nest. The oldest Snowy Egret on record was 17 years old. It was banded in Colorado and found again in Mexico.

            I see Snowy Egrets on the beaches near Sanibel Island, the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge and along roadways in shallow drainage swales. Good websites to see more pictures of this bird is the All About Birds website and the Audubon Society.

 

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Snowy_Egret/id

 

http://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/snowy-egret

 

White Ibis

click on pictures for larger images

           The White Ibis is a wading Bird that lives in the deep South of the U.S. . It is easily recognizable because of its’ long curved red bill which it uses to snatch its prey. The White Ibis also has a thick and large white body and red legs.

            I photographed the White and Juvenile White Ibis birds at the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve and near a drainage swale in Ft. Myers, Fla. These birds eat mostly small fish, invertebrates and insects. They are most commonly seen in tidal flats, mangrove swamps, shallow water drainage areas and in peoples yards. The Immature or Juvenile White Ibis has a different color during its early years exhibiting a darkish body.

            The Florida Audubon Society lists the White Ibis as an imperiled bird which means its numbers have declined over the years and bird conservationist s have been keeping a  close watch on its population. Several reasons could be the reasons for their decline including chemicals which are released into their environment and habitat loss.

            This bird  makes a sound that sometimes sounds like a honk or horn while they are flocking together. You can hear their sounds and calls on the All About Birds website.  Click on the audio button and you will hear their audible sounds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red Bellied Woodpecker

Red Bellied Woodpecker

Red Bellied Woodpecker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

            I love seeing and hearing the Red Bellied Woodpecker in nature preserves that I visit because of their bright colors and sounds which bring life to the woody forests where they live. The Red Bellied Woodpecker are a medium sized bird and has a red head with wings that are covered with black and white stripes and dots. Their belly is all white. They have sharp beaks and like a hummingbird have tongues that can extend out to grab and feed on their food.  

The Red Bellied Woodpecker that I captured with my camera in the photograph above was in the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve in  Ft. Myers, Florida where birders often go to see many kinds of birds because of the dense forest canopy. The Woodpecker makes its nest in the trunk and branches of old trees including oak and pine trees. The repeated knocking sound that you hear from this bird comes from its carving out of the wood from trees for its nest. It also makes a high pitched shrill and other distinctive sounds which make them easy to identity. You can see and hear the sounds of the Red Bellied Woodpecker at the All About Birds website which was created by the Cornell Univ. Lab of Ornithology.

            The diet of the Red Bellied Woodpecker consists of insects, spiders and nuts and seeds from plants in the forest. They also eat fruits including grapes, hackberries, oranges and mangoes. They often fly very swiftly and erratically through the tree canopy and scientists think this may be a habit which they practice to evade other birds and predators. Their nests are sometimes overtaken by Starlings who overpower them because of their size. They are commonly seen in forested areas of the Southeastern U.S