South Florida is host to a large variety of birds, some of which are here all year long and others that are just visiting for a while. So many people will walk out their front or back door and immediately look to the trees and sky to see what’s flying around. That’s one of the beauties of our area, you never know what you’re going to see or exactly where to find our feathered friends. It’s the equivalent of a treasure hunt in the air.
From sweet, melodic songs to loud annoying screeches and colors that range from vibrant reds to very plain grey, the sights and sounds of our aviating neighbors can be both soothing and interesting. From tall to small, we’ve got ‘em all. Let’s meet a few of them.
Visiting our area for the next few months and enjoying their winter feeding grounds are the American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythorhynchos). The scientific name translates to mean red-billed pelican. They are twice the size of our native brown pelicans, if not larger, and boast the second largest wing span of any North American bird, second only to the California Condor. The huge wings allow them to soar quite easily during migration periods.
These “tourists” spend their winters on the East Coast from Florida on south to Panama. On the West Coast look for them in Southern California and into the Baja Peninsula. When not in these areas you can find their spring and summer homes from Wyoming and northward into Canada, where they nest and produce their young.
The plumage is almost completely white, except for some black remiges that are usually only visible during flight. Males and females look exactly alike except for a difference in size, with the males being about 25% larger. They can weigh up to 30 pounds. Unlike the brown pelican, which dives from the air for its fish, the white pelicans are more gregarious and work in groups, in the water, to herd their fish for feeding.
Enjoy their presence for the next few months, before they head home for the mating season. They are quite a sight to behold!
Right here on Marco Island, on Tigertail Court, we have two new residents to talk about. After our male bald eagle unexpectedly died from electrocution last winter, a new pair of bald eagles have occupied that nest. Not only have they settled in very nicely, but the pair is expecting their first hatchling pretty soon.
Before European settlers made their way to North America there were an estimated 500,000 bald eagles on the continent. On the West Coast they could be found from Alaska to Baja, California. On our East Coast, from Labrador to South Florida. The rich estuaries of the Chesapeake Bay boasted a bald eagle nest about every half mile along its shoreline.
As the human eastern growth exploded and western expansion began, the competition for food between man and bird became too strong and many eagles were shot and killed. In Alaska, between 1917-1953 more than 100,000 eagles were eliminated. They were seen as a threat to the salmon population.
Thanks to the 1973 Endangered Species Act the number of eagles is increasing. Here in Florida there are about 1,500 nesting pairs which is second largest in the nation. Take a ride to Tigertail Court and maybe get a glimpse of our new eaglet in a few weeks!
Going from tall to small, a pint-sized owl in our area always draws a lot of attention. The colors of its feathers help it blend into its surroundings to avoid detection by predators. With those big, bright yellow eyes the burrowing ground owl is always a treat to see, and to watch. The nests can be found in open areas with few trees around but its long legs supply some additional height to observe its surroundings. They are usually about nine inches tall, fully grown.
Typical breeding season is right around the corner, starting in February. Nesting occurs in the ground burrows that they dig and are maintained very well and used again the following year. Females will lay up to eight eggs which incubate for about four weeks. The young are efficient flyers at six weeks old but stay with the parents until they can sustain on their own, at about 12 weeks old.
Active during the day (diurnal) during the breeding season, this is contrary to most other owls that are active at night (nocturnal). During the rest of the year they are more nocturnal.
There are several burrowing owl nests around Marco Island. If you get the chance, stop and observe these amazing creatures. You will be captivated by their eyes and movements!
From tall to small, there are a great number of birds to gaze upon in our area. Take those extra few seconds to stop, look and listen. You will be astonished by what you see and hear!
Bob is a Naturalist on board the dolphin survey vessel, Dolphin Explorer. He is the author of two books and a member of the Florida Society for Ethical Ecotourism. Bob loves his wife very much!