Tag Archives: Florida Birds

Barn Owl

Barn Owl - Fish and Wildlife Comm

Barn Owl – Fish and Wildlife Comm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Barn Owl or sometimes referred to as the Common Barn Owl was spotted on Sanibel Island for the first time since 2005 according to the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF). Barn Owls are important to ecosystems because they feed upon unwanted rodent populations such as rats and keep their numbers in check.

Sanibel Island has a rat problem because I have seen their numbers increase and recently had to fix my car engine which was used by a Rice Rat as its nest. The rat apparently was looking for a warm and hidden place to make its nest and the inside of my car engine made a good place for it to hide out. It cost me over $300 to have the rat debris removed and cleaned out.

Barn Owls are whitefish or pale in color with rounded heads and medium in size. They are nocturnal birds that hunt mainly at night with very keen hearing skills and excellent low vision eyesight abilities.  They can swoop down and catch mice and eat them whole. They do not pass their food or prey through their digestive tracts but instead cough up the digested food through their mouths as pellets. The pellets are used by ecologists as useful information for what owls are eating in their habitat.

Barn owls make a hissing noise which you can hear on the All About Birds website. If you visit their website. Click on the sound tab and choose one of the sounds it makes. Barn owls are usually found in abandoned barns, marshes, prairies and agricultural areas. The Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation advises residents on the islands not to use rat poison around their homes because it is then ingested by owls which causes harm to the owls.

Photograph was used, courtesy of the Fish and Wildlife Commission.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egrets which are smaller than their cousins the Great White Egrets are birds that migrated over to the Americas in the late 1800’s from Africa.  They are often seen in agricultural areas with large animals that are foraging for food. They follow cattle or other large animals and wait for their hooves kick up the dirt which dislodges small insects which then become food for the Cattle Egrets. Their diet is very diverse including grasshoppers, crickets, earth worms and ticks as well as fish and frogs when they are near wetlands.

They are much smaller than Great White Egrets with short stout bodies, yellow bills and yellow legs. Their dagger like bill is uniquely adapted to grabbing small insects and invertebrates while walking along the ground or on the backs of cattle. I took the pictures of the Cattle Egrets shown above in the Ft. Myers area of Florida. There is some good information about these birds on the All About Birds website or on Audubons Bird website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wading Birds

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Wading Birds are a unique species of birds in South Florida and they can be distinguished by their long legs, long sharp bills and plumage of feathers covering their bodies. They use their long legs to wade through the shallow waters of shorelines, lakes, rivers, swamps and other bodies of water looking for fish to eat.

The most common and easily seen Wading Bird is the Great White Egret which is a large bird with long white neck, plump body covered with white feathers and a long yellow bill. Another common Wading  Bird  is the Blue Heron which is also large, has a gray-bluish body, long legs which appear like sticks and a yellow to gray bill.

One of the best natural parks and preserves that I have been to in SW Florida where you can see Wading Birds is Audubons’ Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. Located in Naples, Florida, the sanctuary consists of thousands of acres of dry prairie land and swamps that provide habitat for birds and other wildlife. The Audubon Society lists 17 species of wading birds in the sanctuary including the White Ibis, Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, Tri-Colored Heron, White Egret, Snowy Egret, Glossy Ibis, Wood Stork, American Bittern, Least Bittern, Roseatte Spoonbill, Limpkin and Sandhill Crane.

Wading Birds were almost hunted to extinction due to the popularity of their feathers which were worn on top of womens hats. It took an act of Congress to put them on the Endangered Species list.

I have seen and photographed many of the birds shown above near my hone in Ft. Myers at parks including the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve, John Yarbrough Ten Mile Linear Park, Lakes Regional Park and the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Great Egret

Great Egret

Great Egret

 

 

 

 

Great Egret (Ardea alba)

The Great Egret shown in this photo was wading through the shallow swamp water in the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples. The Great Egret was an endangered bird at one time because they were hunted for their feathers which were used for decorative hats. They have rebounded in number and are protected from hunting mainly due to the efforts of the Audubon Society. The Great Egret hunts for small fish, frogs and aquatic animals by wading through fresh and salt water areas and then stabbing their prey with their sharp bills. I like the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website to learn more about Florida birds. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary if you are in Southwest Florida. You will see all kinds of birds and animals that are native to Florida and there is a great visitor center and boardwalk.

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U.S. National Wildlife Refuge – Ding Darling on Sanibel Island

 

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The U.S. National Wildlife Refuge System of Parks and Preserves are public lands set aside to protect wildlife from extinction, over hunting and habitat loss. The National Wildlife Refuge System (NWR)  is different from the National Park Service.The NPS is composed of 59 national parks scattered across the U.S. with unique land features and ecosystems. The the National Wildlife Refuge System has over 500 preserves in all 50 states with much more land and marine environments to protect and manage.

The first NWR, Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida was established by Theodore Roosevelt in 1903. Teddy Roosevelt was an avid outdoorsman and environmental conservationist. There were many more lands added to the NWR as it became clear that many forms of wildlife including mammals, birds, reptiles etc., were being wiped out by the rapid urbanization of land, industrialization, habitat loss and pollution.

Florida is home to over 20 NWR’s and one that I am familiar with is Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island. Ding Darling NWR takes up a large part of Sanibel Island at just over 6,400 acres of mangrove forests, sea grass beds, and salt water lakes and rivers. Ding Darling NWR was named after Jay Norwood Darling who resisted efforts to have the land turned over to commercial interests and land developers. Harry Truman designated the area as a national refuge in 1945. The refuge is now home to thousands of migratory birds and marine life and is visited by thousands of people every year.

There is a great visitor center at the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge  with full size replicas of mangrove forests, birds and other wildlife. They have guest lecturers every year to talk about birds of Florida and national conservation efforts and an active volunteer group called the Ding Darling Wildlife Society.  If you like to kayak, or take nature trips to see dolphins and birds there is the Tarpon Bay Explorers who rent out kayaks, and give boat tours in the preserve. Most visitors take a drive through the preserve, about a five mile loop and stop to look at various parts of the preserve where migratory birds are wading, swimming or nesting. It’s one of the only places I have seen white pelicans. If you are there to take pictures of birds it’s best to bring a telescopic lens to get full size pictures but you may be lucky to get close up pictures of birds that are walking or standing on the lakesides, mangroves or roadsides.

 

 

 

 

Caracara Prairie Preserve

Crested Caracara

Crested Caracara – photo courtesy of Fish and Wildlife Service

Crested Caracara

Crested Caracara – photo courtesy of Fish and Wildlife Service

This past weekend I joined a group of people led by a tour guide from the Conservation Collier organization who took us on a 3 mile hike through the Caracara Prairie Preserve in northern Collier County. Caracara Prairie Preserve is named after the rare Crested Caracara bird which is often seen in the prairies and forests in this part of Florida and the Southwestern U.S. . This bird resembles a vulture in some ways because it is a raptor using its keen eyesight and sharp claws and bill to hunt and kill its prey. It feeds on dead animals or carrion as well as insects, small animals and eggs. We weren’t lucky enough to see a Caracara but the hike was very enjoyable because of the pretty terrain, well managed hiking paths and variety of plants we saw along the way. Some of my pictures of the preserve are shown in the previous post of this website. This preserve was donated by a private landowner (Judge Starnes) and Crew Land and Water Trust. It is now owned and managed by Conservation Collier which has many different parks and preserves set aside for ground water recharge, wildlife habitat and public recreation.

The 2.6 mile loop trail is marked by red and blue stakes but we managed to get lost or turned around at some point and we added an hour to an already 2 ½ hour tiring hike on a hot and humid day. Some of the things I enjoyed seeing were the variety of plants, and trees along the way, a Swallow Tail Kite flying overhead and views of prescribed burning in the dense brush that the county does to manage the growth of exotic vegetation and to lessen the danger of wildfires. The preserve acts as a grazing area for many cows and we had to sidestep cows pies as they are called which was one of the less enjoyable aspects of the hike. I would recommend walking this trail with a tour guide because it is easy to get lost and not a place you want to be without water for long in the hot weather. Two excellent websites to view and learn more about the Crested Caracara is the AllAboutBirds website by Cornell Univ. and the Florida Birding Trail website by the Fish and Wildlife Service.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Florida Birds – Sanderlings

Sanderlings

Sanderlings

Sanderlings

Sanderlings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sanderlings  (Calidris alba)  run back and forth on the beach near the wave line  looking for small invertebrate marine life to feed upon. They move very quickly and tend to move about as flocks. They are also called sandpipers.  They have black bills, gray backs and white bellies. They breed in the Artic but migrate south to the warmer climates during winter. They are a common sight on Florida’s beaches.  I caught this flock on a Sanibel beach and they were also pretty to look at as they were flying. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology “All About Birds” website has some excellent information about Sanderlings and other birds.

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Florida Birds – Brown Pelican

Pelican at Ft Myers Beach

Pelican at Ft Myers Beach

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I saw and photographed this Brown Pelican at Ft. Myers Beach. Brown Pelicans are large seabirds that are often seen gliding over salt water bays, coastlines and other bodies of water.  They are  impressive birds to watch fly as they seem to glide with the wind without much effort. They hunt for food by looking for fish from above and then suddenly dive into the water head first with a big splash which stuns their prey which gives the Pelican time to grab a fish with it’s long bill. Pelicans were once in danger of becoming extinct because of the widespread use of the pesticide  DDT which damaged Pelicans eggs and their offspring. When Pelicans aren’t flying and swooping into the water they are common sights looking for scraps of fish on fishing docks or standing on wooden pilings, or other types of supports. A close relative of Brown Pelicans are White Pelicans. White pelicans forage for fish not by diving into the water but by other means. You can see and learn more about Pelicans at All About Birds.    

Imperiled Species Plan

American Oyster Catcher

American Oyster Catcher

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The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has released it’s new conservation plan needed to protect species of wildlife that are endangered or threatened. The new plan which lists 60 species of birds, animals, reptiles and fish is meant to be more pro active in protecting and increasing the numbers of endangered wildlife in Florida. Species such as the American Oystercatcher pictured above will be protected from hunters and poachers and also have their habitat evaluated by FWC. Wildlife habitats are areas in which birds, animals and other types of wildlife make their home, nest and forage for food. Habitat destruction has been the number one reason why species decline in number. Wildlife lose their habitat by natural causes such as floods and fires but also by man made causes such as clearing and development of the land. You can learn more about the 60 species of wildlife which have been put on the new list and actions that will be taken by FWC at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Website.

 

 

Birds of Florida – Double-Crested Cormorants

Double Crested Cormorants

Double Crested Cormorants

Double Crested Cormorants

Double Crested Cormorants

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I  was lucky enough to see this flock of Double-crested Cormorants while I was bicycling along a drainage canal on Daniels Pkwy in Ft. Myers in the Autumn of 2014. Cormorants look similar to Anhinga’s but can be distinguished by their shorter bills which are also bent down at the end. These birds are very strong swimmers and feed by diving for their prey in many types of aquatic habitats such as lakes, rivers, swamps, ponds and bays. Their diet includes fish, crabs, crayfish, frogs, salamanders and snakes. They usually swallow their prey whole once they are caught. I have seen these birds swim several yards underwater to catch their prey. The Audubon Guide to North American Birds has some good information to learn more about these birds. You can also visit All About Birds to learn more about Cormorants and hear an audio of their calls.