South Florida is heralded for its large tracts of pristine mangrove forests, and more than 36,000 acres of mangroves are protected within the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. Mangroves protect shorelines from damaging storm and hurricane winds, waves, and floods, and help prevent erosion. Mangroves also provide habitat for diverse wildlife. Many species of fish start their lives within the protective prop roots of the red mangroves that line south Florida’s estuaries. Many other animal species also can be found in these trees, but one that is often underappreciated is the mangrove cuckoo.
Cuckoos are part of a widespread family called Cuculidae, that includes anis, roadrunners and two other cuckoos in North America. Yellow-billed cuckoos are, by far, the most commonly observed cuckoo in Florida, and very easily confused with the mangrove cuckoo, which is typically found only along Florida’s southwest coast from Tampa Bay south through the Keys.
They are called “skulkers” for their habit of staying out of sight, moving slowly and seldom through thick vegetation.
~ Keith Laakkonen
Mangrove cuckoos are relatively uncommon and secretive. According to reserve director and avid birder Keith Laakkonen, they are called “skulkers” for their habit of staying out of sight, moving slowly and seldom through thick vegetation.
“On numerous occasions, we’ve learned of people who have visited Rookery Bay Reserve from around the nation or beyond specifically to get a glimpse of this bird,” he said. “I was very excited to get a really good look at one here just a few weeks ago.”
Mangrove cuckoos have been seen in recent weeks near the end of Shell Island Road, just past the site of the Rookery Bay Field Station and former marine laboratory. The road is open to visitors from sunrise to sunset, seven days a week.
Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, established in 1978, protects 110,000 acres of coastal lands and waters between Naples and Everglades National Park. It is managed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in cooperation with NOAA. For more information, visit RookeryBay.org.
Renee Wilson is Communications Coordinator at Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. She has been a Florida resident since 1986, and joined the staff at the Reserve in 2000.