Florida is for the Birds

June 22, 2011

I’ve determined that if you’re not a bird watcher when you move to Florida, you eventually become one. Whether it’s the Red Wing Blackbird that catches your eye, or the statuesque herons and cranes, something inevitably draws you in. Several have caught my attention by now, and I seem to be looking for them everywhere I go.

From the Sandhill Cranes (which I wrote an earlier post on)…

Sandhill Crane (photo by Matt O'Neill)

to the graceful herons.

Great Blue Heron (photo by Matt O'Neill)


White Heron (photo by Matt O'Neill)

From the hawks that fly over our house daily, to the ospreys and owls. I enjoy them all.

Osprey (photo by Matt O'Neill)


Barred Owl (photo by Matt O'Neill)



August 10, 2010

Florida may have many beautiful birds to enjoy, but the Wood Stork is not one of them.

Apparently Wood Storks are the only storks that breed in the United States, and they seem to be pretty good at it judging by the number of nests in this one tree. 

When I think of the old tale of a stork delivering a baby, I see the stork flying gracefully on its way to deliver its new bundle. Well, not our storks.  They fly with their legs dangling down and their neck stretched out.   Graceful is not a word I would use to describe that.

Whoever coined that old phrase about storks delivering babies obviously wasn’t talking about Wood Storks.

In my search to find something to love about these storks, I at least came across a few interesting facts.

  • When seeking their prey, the Wood Stork will walk slowly in shallow water up to its belly.  It will hold its bill open in the water, waiting for a fish to make its presence known.
  • The reproductive cycle of the Wood Stork is triggered by waterholes drying up, which forces fish into smaller areas, making it easier to find food for the baby storks.
  • Week old baby Wood Storks are fed up to 15 times a day.  And during very warm weather, the parent will collect water in its bill and bring it back to the babies, drooling it into their mouths.

Unique? Yes.  But these Florida birds may take some getting used to.


June 8, 2010

I am surprised by the large number of Osprey easily spotted throughout the state of Florida. On a recent trip to Sanibel Island, this pair of Osprey presided over the Memorial Day weekend festivities at the nearby beach.

Knowing about other birds of prey, I am surprised at how little I know about this one.  Here are a few things I’ve recently learned.

The Osprey…

  • is one of the largest birds of prey in North America
  • is one of the most widespread birds in the world, found on all continents except Antarctica
  • is sometimes known as the Sea Hawk, or Fish Eagle
  • is diurnal (the opposite of nocturnal)
  • joins the Owl as the only raptors with a reversible outer toe which allows grasping of prey with two toes in front and two toes behind
  • has a diet consisting of 99% fish, and occasionally including rodents, rabbits, other birds, amphibians, and small reptiles
  • sights its prey 32-120 feet above the water, then hovers momentarily before plunging feet first into the water
  • can become completely submerged during its dive into the water for its prey (unlike bald eagles which must pluck fish at the surface as they fly by)
  • while in-flight, orients captured fish headfirst to make it as aerodynamic as possible
  • nests on manmade structures, including telephone poles, channel markers, duck blinds and other platforms specifically built for them
  • makes its nest out of sticks and lines it with bark, vines, grasses, sod, and sometimes plastic bags
  • has a call that consists of sharp whistles of cheep cheep or yewk yewk, and when disturbed, gives off a frenzied cheereek  

Sandhill Cranes

May 21, 2010

There is something very unique about Florida birds.  One in particular is the Sandhill Crane, which we unexpectedly encountered on a recent hike.

We spotted the Crane a short distance away, poking its bill repeatedly into the ground.  As we quietly approached I fully expected the Crane to either walk the other way or take off in flight.  It did neither.  Instead it just kept moving toward us.  Finally we decided to pass, staying well to our side of the wide path.  With only three feet or so between us, the Crane continued its search, not flinching, or even looking our way.    

A few interesting facts about the Sandhill Crane:

  • Sandhill Cranes are preyed upon by avian and mammalian predators.  When approached by avian predators (eagles, large owls) the Crane will fly straight at the predator, kicking it with its long legs and feet.  When approached by a mammalian predator (fox, bobcat) the Crane barrels straight for it, wings spread wide and bill pointed at the predator. 
  • Cranes are known for their dancing.  This includes bowing, jumping, running, stick or grass tossing,  and wing flapping.
  • The Florida Sandhill Crane often is seen in residential yards, with apparently little fear of human approach.  They also saunter over fields, wet grasslands and meadows.
  • Sandhill Cranes nest in marsh vegetation or on the ground near water. 
  • Florida Sandhill Cranes are less common than other species of Sandhill Cranes. Some experts estimate there are only about 5,000 remaining.  The biggest threat to their survival is habitat destruction.
  • During breeding season, the Sandhill Cranes camouflage themselves by preening mud into their feathers.
  • If you hear a loud, rattling kar-r-r-o-o, a Sandhill Crane is most likely nearby.