Birds

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kites, Elanoides forficatus, arrive in Florida in early March. They begin their breeding rituals high in the sky. The mated pair will build a nest of sticks, Spanish moss, and lichen near the top of a tall tree. Here they will share the task of incubating 1-3 eggs for about a month.

After hatching, the mother Swallow-tailed Kite will stay at the nest with the young and feed them the food that the father brings for all of them. After a few weeks, both the male and female will leave the nest to bring food back to their hungry chicks. The little ones will begin exploring the tree at about 5 weeks and will make their first flight at 5-6 weeks.

These striking raptors are hard to miss with their black forked tails and brilliant white heads contrasted against their ebony bodies. They are most often found gliding through the sky over forests near rivers or open pine forests near marshes and prairies.

When you see a Swallow-tailed Kite soaring through the sky, watch as they twist their tail and swoop near trees and over lower plants. They will often snatch an animal off of a branch or leaf without slowing down. Their favorite foods include lizards, snakes, birds, frogs, and dragonflies.

In early July, Swallow-tailed Kites will gather in large communal roosts. They are dependent on lowland forests to supply the nourishment and calories they need before embarking on their 5000-mile journey to the tropical forests of southern Brazil where they will spend the winter.

Photo Credit: flying Andy Waldo
Photo Credit: close up, Don Faulkner / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #Swallowtailedkite #ConnectRespectCoexist

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Florida Scrub-Jay

Florida Scrub-Jay
Aphelocoma coerulescens

Florida Scrub-jays are the only species of birds endemic to Florida. These social birds are charismatic, vocal, and friendly. They thrive in sand pine and xeric oak scrub, scrubby flatwoods, sand dunes, and sandy deposits along rivers. Scrub-jays dine on lizards, toads, frogs, mice, insects, and bird eggs. Acorns add protein and Scrub-jays have been known to bury some to be used during the winter months.

Florida Scrub-jays are cooperative breeders. Both the mom and dad as well as grown offspring feed and protect the young. Breeding takes place in March through June. Nests are built from palmetto fibers and twigs and are only 3-10′ above the ground. An average clutch of 2-5 eggs produces new chicks in about 18 days. The babies fledge in another 18 days and remain with their family for a year.

A scrub-jay family lives in a 24-acre area. The family will take turns being the “look-out” bird while the rest forage for food. If a predatory bird such as a hawk is sighted, the “look-out” bird will call to the family and they will all take cover. If the threat is at ground level, the family may join together in attacking a snake or other predator.

Sadly, Florida Scrub-jays have been declared Threatened under the Endangered Species Act and classified as Vulnerable to Extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. There are only about 8,000 Scrub-Jays left in Florida. Florida Scrub-jays are protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Over the last 200 years, humans have claimed Scrub-jays well-drained habitats for development and agriculture. A history of fire suppression caused much of their remaining habitats to become overgrown and unlivable. Because development has caused forests to become fragmented, when young birds leave their family home, they have a hard time finding a suitable habitat where they can settle down and start their own family. This fragmentation has caused isolation between families and thus, each group of Scrub-jays has adapted by developing their own unique vocalizations.

#Connect #Respect #Coexist

Photo Credit Dan Kon

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Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

It’s spring in Central Florida. While sauntering through a pine savannah, you catch a streak of red out of the corner of your eye. When you look that way, it’s gone. You catch another glimpse but just as fast, it’s gone. Finally, it lands on a pine tree. It’s a beautiful red-headed woodpecker!

The red-headed woodpecker is a resident of open forests from Canada to Florida and west to Texas. They reside year-round in Florida in pine forests with open forest floors, in orchards, and tall trees in neighborhoods. Red-headed woodpeckers are cavity nesters and require dead trees or limbs where they excavate their nests. Both the male and female incubate 4-5 eggs and share feeding the young.

Food is plentiful for this omnivorous bird. Red-headed woodpeckers dine on insects, spiders, earthworms as well as fruit, seeds, and berries. In the fall, these smart woodpeckers gather nuts and store them in crevices and holes for winter nourishment.

Photo Credit: Andy Waldo
#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #woodpecker #Redheadedwoodpecker

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Carolina Wren

Carolina Wren
Thryothorus ludovicianus

Quietly sit outside and you will likely see a pair of busy Caroline Wrens. They are common in backyards and open woods. Listen and you will hear their song, often with the male producing resonant melodies while the female chirps along.

Carolina Wrens dine on caterpillars, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, spiders, larvae, and other insects, as well as fruit, seeds, and berries. They use their bills to search for food while hopping or flying on or near the ground. They forage together near the safety of shrubs or bushes in gardens, thickets, brush piles, barks of trees and limbs, and may occasionally stop at your birdfeeder for a treat.

Mated for life, Carolina Wrens will defend their permanent territory. They work together to construct their nest where they will raise 3 broods of 4-8 young each year. Their nests can be found in tree holes, branches, stumps, and brush. They can also be found in mailboxes, window boxes, garages, artificial wreaths hung on your front door, and a variety of other human-provided safe nesting spots. The couple builds the nest out of twigs, leaves, and weeds with a side opening and oftentimes, with a domed roof. The female lines the nest with soft materials of grass, moss, feathers, animal hair, and/or snakeskin. The male brings meals to the female while she incubates the eggs for two weeks. Both parents feed the chicks for two weeks before they leave the nest.

Has a Carolina Wren pair claimed your yard as their permanent territory? Please tell us about them in the comments. If they have made a nest in an unusual spot, please share that with all of us too.

Photo Credit Andy Waldo

#IOF #ImagineOurFlorida
#GetOutside #ConnectRespectCoexist
#CarolinaWren #Wren

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White Pelicans

American White Pelicans, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos, spend the summer months in colonies In Canada and Northwestern United States where they breed and raise their young on lakes.

Before winter, flocks of white pelicans soar into Florida by flying high in a V formation. One of North America’s largest birds, white pelicans are hard to miss with their wingspan of up to 9 1/2 feet. Black wingtips and pink or reddish-orange legs, feet, and bills make this bird a must-see.

Look for white pelicans on coastal waters, bays, estuaries, and inland waterways. Their nests, consisting of sticks and dirt, can be found on the ground. Watch as these graceful birds float on the surface of the water and dip their heads to scoop up a fish dinner. You will often find several of them together as they participate in a group effort to herd fish into a buffet for all.

We can all work together to make sure these vulnerable beauties are here for our next generations to enjoy by eliminating pesticides and cleaning up litter including monofilament lines.

Have you seen White Pelicans?
Please post the location in the comments so we all can have an opportunity to see them too.

Photo Credit: Andy Waldo at Orlando Wetlands Park

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #WhitePelican #Snowbird #Pelican #GetOutside

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Red-bellied Woodpecker

The Red-bellied woodpecker, Melanerpes carolinus, is often found in the suburbs or city parks. They thrive in woodlands near rivers and in swamps.

With just a touch of red on their bellies, these woodpeckers are easily identified by the beautiful black and white barred pattern on their backs. Males have a bright red crown and nape. Females have a pale white crown and red nape.

A mated pair will work together to build a nest. Often the male will excavate several holes in a dead tree or fence post and the female will choose the best one. She may also select a nest box or a previously used nest from another woodpecker. Once the nest is complete, the female will lay 4-5 eggs. Both parents incubate the eggs with the male usually taking the night shift. In about 2 weeks, the eggs hatch. Both parents feed their babies until they leave the nest in 3-4 weeks and for up to 6 weeks after.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers love insects. Look for them on branches and tree trunks as they pick at bark for food with their bills or perch while eating berries. Other food may include acorns, nuts, fruit, and seeds. Occasionally, these woodpeckers may treat themselves to a tasty bird egg, a tree frog or oozing sap.

The next time you are outside, look up. You may get to see one of these beautiful, acrobatic birds in action.

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #RedbelliedWoodpecker #GetOutside

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Sora

Soras, Porzana Carolina, are chubby little birds who spend most of their time hidden in marshes. Their distinctive whistles can be heard often near ponds, rivers, and other marshy areas. When they finally appear, Soras move their heads forward with each step and flick their tails to expose the white undersides. They are striking birds with a black mask and a bright yellow bill.

After the male and female complete their courting ritual, the couple builds a nest of grasses and dead cattails before adding a soft lining. The nest is well hidden in the dense marsh, often among cattails, and is placed a few inches above the water. Incubation begins as soon as the first of 10-12 eggs are laid. As the eggs hatch, one parent will incubate the remaining eggs while the other will care for the hatchlings who leave the nest. Both parents will feed the hatchlings for 3 weeks before the young ones learn to fly.

Soros dine on a variety of foods. Seeds, insects, snails, and aquatic invertebrates are some of their favorite foods. They forage on the ground, in the water, on plants, and in the mud.

Have you heard a Sora? Listen Here:
http://www.azfo.org/…/…/AZFO_SORA_CALLS_2_deviche_092405.mp3

Photo Credit: Andy Waldo
#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #Sora #GetOutside

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Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant – The Sea Raven —

Cormorant is derived from the Latin word corvus which means raven and marinus which means sea.

Cormorants, Phalacrocorax auritus, are brownish-black with black webbed feet and legs and a reddish-orange face and beak. You will often find them floating low in the water or with their wings outstretched along the shores of coastal areas, rivers, swamps, and lakes. Because their oil glands do not waterproof their rings, cormorants will find a sunny spot to dry their wings.

Cormorants may feed alone or in flocks. Finding their favorite foods, fish and invertebrates like shrimp and crabs, may require them to dive up to 60 feet and remain submerged for more than a minute. Cormorants are not picky eaters and their diets vary by season. They enjoy treats such as eels, plants, frogs, and an occasional snake.

Courtship is a big deal for Sea Ravens. A Male will use his wings to splash, swim in zig-zag patterns, and dive for vegetation to present to a female. He will crouch at his chosen nest site and call out to his desired female while vibrating his wings. Nesting usually takes place in a large colony which is sometimes shared with other wading birds. Using twigs, sticks, seaweed, and grass collected mostly by the male, the female constructs most of the nest in a tree or on the ground near the water. Cormorants incubate their 3-4 eggs with their webbed feet. Both the male and female will feed the chicks until they are about 10 weeks old and ready to leave the nest.

Before 1966 populations significantly decreased from hunting and pesticides such as DDT. Today, cormorants are once again widespread and abundant. This heartwarming story of the Sea Ravens who not only survived persecution from humans but who are now thriving can be repeated with today’s endangered and threatened animals. It’s up to us to teach folks of all ages to #connect#respect, and #coexist with our wildlife and within our shared ecosystems.

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #Cormorant #SeaRaven

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Purple Gallinule

(Porphyrio martinicus)

Plumage in shades of purple, teal, indigo, and olive along with a yellow-tipped red bill and bright yellow legs make this bird hard to miss. Purple gallinules are noisy rails who are most often found near freshwater marshes, ponds, and swamps. You may find them swimming, walking on lily pads, or in the branch of a tree.

In the spring and summer, a pair of Purple Gallinules will build one or more nests at or above the water level. The nests are supported by strong vegetation at the water’s edge and are made of grasses, cattails and other vegetation found nearby. Raising babies is a family affair. Both the male and female incubate 5-10 eggs for 22-25 days. Once hatched, the mother, father, and older siblings help feed the babies until they are 9 weeks old and able to fly.

Purple Gallinules are omnivorous. You may find them pecking the ground like a chicken as they forage along the shore for fruit, seeds, insects, worms, or snails. In the water, they will nod their head while looking for tasty aquatic greens or a fish dinner.

When you see a Purple Gallinule, spend some time watching this gorgeous bird with quirky movements. Note how their feathers appear to change color when they move from sunshine to shade. You will be amazed at how the Purple Gallinule’s brilliant colors perfectly blend into Florida’s wetlands.

Photo Credit: Andy Waldo
#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #PurpleGallinule #Explore #Discover

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Black Skimmers

Black Skimmers, Rynchops niger, are seen flying low to the water with the lower part of their bills skimming the water for food. Their bills are wide at the top and come to the point. When a skimmer senses a fish in the longer, lower mandible of its bill, the upper part instantly snaps shut.

Striking and easily recognizable, skimmers are medium-sized tern-like seabirds with red and black bills and a wingspan of 3 to 3.5 feet. They have black wings with white edging, black backs, and a white underside and head. Black skimmers inhabit coastal areas such as beaches, estuaries, and sandbars.

Breeding and roosting occur between May and early September in colonies of up to several hundred pairs. Skimmers lay three to five eggs which are incubated by both parents for 23-25 days. Skimmers are protective parents and the colony acts as a village when it mobs a predator as a group in an effort to protect nests. The young fly at 28-30 days old. A successful colony will use the same nest site next year.

Black skimmers are threatened in Florida and are protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Coastal development and human activity without regard to seabirds pose the biggest threat. Predators such as crows, raccoons, opossums, coyotes, and feral hogs find skimmer eggs and chicks to be a delicious meal. Pets, beach driving, recreational activity, oil spills, shoreline hardening, and more cause parents to abandon their nests. Sea level rise poses another threat to the black skimmer population.

With all of these threats, most of the colonies in Florida are managed by local land managers and volunteers. Documented black skimmer colonies in Florida are managed with fencings and/or informational signs.

With your help, black skimmers can make a successful comeback. Heed the signs you see while at the beach. Call the number on the signs at a beach near you and volunteer to make a difference. Let’s all do what we can now to protects these beautiful Florida seabirds.

Photos courtesy of FWC and Kon Studio

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #blackskimmer #beach

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American Flamingo

The American Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber) stands 5 feet tall with a wingspan of 50 inches. Their bright pink color comes from their diet of snails, crustaceans, and crabs and algae. Without this specific diet, they would turn gray.

The most unusual thing about Flamingos is their tongue. It is encased in the lower jaw and does not move. The tongue squeezes mud through structures in the bill, called lamellae which act as a strainer to extract insects, brine shrimp, algae, and other small prey.

There has been some debate on whether or not Flamingos are native to Florida. If they are spotted, they are usually considered escapees from captive flocks. During the 1800s flamingos were considered native to Florida. John James Audubon came specifically to see Flamingos on his 1830 visit to Florida. By the 1900s Flamingos had almost completely vanished. They were hunted for food, skin, and feathers.

Flamingos are wading birds and can be found around a water source. They have very long, thin necks and legs. Their heads are small and their bills are large, heavy, and have a crook. Young flamingos have straight bills but the crook develops as they get older.

The Flamingo stands on one leg to conserve heat as their legs have no feathers. Conserving heat is also why they bury their heads in their feathers. It also makes it easier to stand on one leg and reach down into the water with their bills to catch prey.

Flamingos are monogamous. The flock will mate at the same time so the eggs will hatch collectively. The flock protects the young from predators. The mated pair will make a mound of mud and the female will lay one egg which is between 3 to 3 1/2 inches long. It hatches in 27 to 31 days. Hatchlings are born white and turn pink within 2 years. Both parents produce a crop of milk in their upper digestive tract which they feed to the young until they start to eat solid food.

Florida has already removed the American Flamingo from the non-native list. Hopefully, flamingos will regain their native species status and become subject to federal and state protections. Conservation efforts to protect American Flamingos will be necessary to ensure these birds continue to survive even as they face increasing threats from habitat loss, pollution, and invasive predators. This historic population is in the very beginnings of a recovery. When we work together, we will ensure that the American Flamingo will not become extinct.

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #flamingo #pink

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Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

The Eastern Bluebird, Sialia sialis, is part of the songbird family of thrushes. Once declining at an alarming rate due to introduced species, pesticides, and habitat loss, Eastern bluebirds have made a stirring comeback. The population increase has been aided by birdhouses built especially for the bluebirds along bluebird trails.

Eastern bluebirds prefer open habitat which is near trees. These areas include forest clearings, burned areas, savannas, pastures, parks, and golf courses.

Male bluebirds flutter and sing to attract a female. The new couple will find a tree with a cavity such as an old woodpecker hole or a birdhouse. The female does most of the nest building and will loosely construct a nest of twigs and grasses lined with softer material such as feathers, animal hairs, or fine grass. There she will lay 3-7 pale blue or white eggs.

Incubation takes 13-16 days and is mostly by the female. When the nestlings are born, both parents will feed their young. Since Eastern bluebirds have 2-3 broods per year, it is not unusual to see a young bird from a previous brood help with feeding. Meals consist of a wide variety of insects. They also enjoy berries, earthworms, and snails.

Eastern bluebirds are monogamous while nesting but can be found in small flocks during the rest year. We hope a flock of bluebirds will fly over the rainbow and visit all of you this year.

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #Bluebird #birds

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Limpkin

— Limpkin —

The Limpkin (Aramus guaraunas) is a unique looking bird. It is brown with white spots and streaks, densest on the head and neck, with a long yellow bill. The Limpkin is 25 to 29 inches long, with a wingspan of 40 to 42 inches. Because of their long toes they can stand on floating objects as well as swim. Limpkins get their name from the seeming limp when they walk. They are also known as the wailing bird or crying bird due to their loud, mournful call at night.

Limpkins’ diet consists of apple snails and freshwater mussels. Adapted for foraging on apple snails, the bill is slightly curved to the right so it can slip into the snail. When closed, the bill has a gap right before the tip. The bill then acts like tweezers when it needs to feed. They will also eat, worms, insects, frogs, and lizards.

The Limpkin’s habitat includes the shores of ponds, lakes, rivers, swamps, and open freshwater marshes. Their nests are made up of twigs and any kind of vegetation. They are built on anything from floating vegetation to tree limbs. Both parents incubate the eggs during the day but only the females incubate at night. The clutch size is between 3 to 8 eggs which range in color from grayish white to deep olive with brownish or purplish gray streaks. When they are born they can run, walk and swim. This bird was once very common in Florida but because of the decline of its primary food the Florida Apple Snail and loss of habitat, it is listed as a species of special concern.

Did you know: A group of limpkins is known as a “hobbling”.

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Barred Owl

— Barred Owl – Strix varia —

“Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?” hoots the Barred Owl in a rich, soulful voice.

Barred Owls are native to North America and can be found in low-lying swamps, dense forests and most commonly, in deciduous or mixed woods. A suburban neighborhood can offer ideal habitat for Barred Owls when large trees are present although risk of being hit by a vehicle poses a danger. Pleistocene fossils of Barred Owls have been dug up in Floridaindicating these magnificent birds of prey have inhabited our state for at least 11,000 years.

Adult Barred Owls are 16–25 inches long and have a wingspan of 38–49 inches. They weigh 1.10 to 2.31 pounds. Their faces are pale with dark rings around the eyes and they have yellow beaks. Their chests are barred horizontally and their bellies are barred vertically. Barred Owls are the only species in the Eastern United States who have warm, dark brown eyes.

Prey consists mostly of small mammals, however, Barred Owls will also prey upon other small animals such as amphibians, reptiles, and birds. Hunts generally occur during dusk or dawn, although Barred Owls may be found hunting during the day when it’s raining or when raising young. Barred Owls have keen eyesight and will often perch on a branch while waiting for prey to appear. Using their night-vision, they will take flight and silently swoop in on their prey. Without any warning, they will snatch up the unsuspecting animal in their strong talons.

Perched close to each other when courting, both male and female will bow and bob their heads, raise their wings, and call out to each other. Barred Owl nests are often found high in a tree cavity although they have been known to move into an abandoned nest originally created by hawks, crows, or squirrels. Clutches consist of 2 to 4 white colored eggs. Eggs are brooded by the female during which time the male brings the food. Owlets hatch in approximately 4 weeks and are ready to take flight in about 6 weeks.

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #Owl #BarredOwl

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Green Heron

The Green Heron (Butorides virescens), is a solitary, secretive bird. They inhabit coastal areas, mangrove swamps, freshwater ponds, and wetlands.

Green Herons stand with their bodies stretched and horizontal, ready to thrust their bill into prey. They use twigs, berries, and feathers as bait. They drop the bait into the water and wait for it to attract prey. Fish are the primary food but they also eat aquatic frogs, crustaceans, insects, grasshoppers, snakes, and rodents.

Nests are constructed near water. The male begins building the nest and the female finishes it. The female lays 3-5 eggs and both Mom and Dad incubate the eggs for 19-21 days. Once hatched, both will feed the young with regurgitated food. The young learn to fly at about 23 days but both parents will continue to feed the young until they fledge at about 30 days.

The Green Heron is a dark colored, stocky bird. They have a dark neck, gray belly, and a greenish, blue back. The upper part of the bill is dark, and the legs are bright orange. Green Heron populations seem to be stable but accurate numbers are difficult because of its secretive nature.

For the Green Heron, protection of wetlands is especially important.

Green Heron – St Petersburg Mangroves
#ImagineOurFlorida #GreenHeron #IOF #Mangroves #Wetlands

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Roseate Spoonbill

— Roseate Spoonbill ( Ajaia ajaja) —
The Roseate Spoonbill is a dramatic comeback bird. Plume hunters had reduced the bird to just 25 in 1901. With the banning of the plume-hunting trade, Florida set a national example for preservation. By the late 1970s, there were nearly 1300 nests.This is an elegant, rose-colored, wading bird with a shovel-like beak. Spoonbills can be found in mangrove swamps, tidal ponds, and saltwater lagoons or other sources of brackish water. The bird is 30 to 36 inches tall with a wingspread approaching 3 to 4 feet. Spoonbills have a white neck with pink or rose feathers covering much of its body. The feathers on their wings are bright red to magenta depending on the age of the bird. The legs are pinkish red. The irises of the eyes of adult birds are bright red.

A Spoonbill’s most distinctive feature is the greenish-gray, spoon-shaped beak. On the beak, the nostrils are located near the head, allowing the bird to breathe even with much of its beak underwater. Water must be present for feeding because they can not feed on land. They open their beaks slightly and begin to swing their heads back and forth in the water. This creates small whirlpools and the vibrations of escaping prey are felt by sensors in the beak. The beak then snaps shut, not allowing the prey to escape. Their prey includes shrimp, crawfish, small fish, insects, and other small mammals. Their red color comes from the red algae ingested along with the crustaceans.

Males are slightly larger than females but their coloration is identical. March through June is mating season. Spoonbills form mating pairs for the season but not for life. Females attract males by shaking branches with their beaks. The male approaches while nodding his head and attempts to perch next to her. Six days after mating, 2 to 4 eggs are deposited in the nest. Both male and female help incubate the nest and feed the young. The young Spoonbills leave the nest at 8 weeks. They reach maturity at 3 years.

“How can hope be denied when there is always the possibility of an American flamingo or a roseate spoonbill floating down from the sky like pink rose petals?”
Quote -Terry Tempest Williams

Photo credit -Dan Kon

 

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Turkey Buzzard

Let’s talk about the Turkey Buzzard (Cathartes aura), nature’s sanitation engineer and when joined by friends, the ultimate clean-up crew.

Turkey Buzzards are also known as Turkey Vultures. They have black or dark brown feathers and their featherless heads and necks have pink skin. They are between 25 to 32 inches in length and weigh up to 6 pounds. They have a wingspan of 54 inches.

Turkey vultures use thermal currents to float on the warm air currents without flapping their wings which conserves energy. They will travel 30 to 50 miles on these currents in search of food. Their bills and feet are not designed to catch prey and they prefer to eat fresh road kill and other carrion.

The Turkey Buzzard has a keener sense of smell than other birds. They can smell the chemical breakdown of carrion from a mile away and will float and follow the aroma until they find it. Their bald, featherless heads, makes it safer for them to stick their heads deep into carrion and nothing will stick to the smooth skin.

As carrion eaters, many consider Turkey Buzzards spooky and harbingers of death. If you see one of these vultures circling above you, it doesn’t mean you are about to die. These Buzzards have a unique and ecological role because they prevent the spread of disease from rotting carrion by eating it.

Since they have weak legs and cannot carry food back to their young, they will gorge on a carcass and regurgitate to feed the young. They will also urinate on their legs and feet to cool off, their urine kills any parasites and bacteria from walking and standing on the carcasses. When threatened they will vomit to lighten their body weight to escape as a defense mechanism against predators.

Turkey vultures are highly social. They will fly in a small group and breed annually with the same mate. The vulture can be found in pastures, landfills, or anywhere they can find carrion. Eggs are laid on the ground in dense thickets, scrub areas, hollow logs, caves, or old buildings. The Turkey Buzzard lays between one to four clutches from March to July. Their eggs hatch in 35 to 40 days and the nesting period is 55 to 90 days.

Vultures are a protected species, which means that interfering with them physically has legal repercussions.

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Burrowing Owl

Florida Burrowing Owls are small owls with long legs and short tails. The head is rounded and does not have ear tufts. They are between 7-9 inches tall with a 21-inch wingspan. Burrowing owls have brown back feathers with patches of white spots. As well as a white underside with brown bar-shaped spots. The body color pattern helps them blend in with the vegetation in their habitat and avoid predators. They also have large yellow eyes and a white chin. They make their burrows in sandy prairies and pastures with very little vegetation. Due to development, the majority of Florida’s Burrowing Owls have had to adapt to living in urban habitats such as golf courses, ball fields, residential lawns and other expanses of cleared land. They are a very social species and families will live in close proximity to each other. They are the only species of owl in the world that nests underground. They will dig their own burrows. Or occupy burrows, up to 8 feet in length, that have been dug out by a Gopher Tortoise. They are active more during the day then the night. The female lays 6-8 eggs and incubates them, while the father stands guard outside and collects cockroaches, lizards, insects, and rodents. The chicks take several weeks to learn to fly before that they take short runs along the ground. The Florida Burrowing Owl is listed as threatened due to loss of habitation as well as harassment by humans and domesticated animals.

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Robins

Robins – Florida Snow Birds

* Robins prefer cooler temperatures which is why they fly north to escape the southern heat.
* Robins will start to migrate back north when they feel a 37-degree average daily isotherm ( ground temperature above 37*).
* Male robins will arrive at their northern destinations about 2 weeks earlier than the females. This gives them time to claim their territory. 
* Robins do not mate for life, however, the male will stay to help feed his chicks.
*Chicks leave the nest in August and live to be 5-6 years old.
* Robins begin to migrate south when the temperature causes the ground to become too hard to dig for earthworms, their main source of food.
* Robins will resort to eating berries and insects until that food supply starts to dwindle.
* During migration, robins can fly up to 36 mph and cover 100-200 miles a day.
*Winter months are spent in Florida, southern Louisiana, southern Texas, southern Arizona, southern New Mexico, Southern California, and northern Mexico.
* Most robins migrate intermediate distances but some have migrated from Vancouver to as far south as Guatemala.

As the temperature warms in our neighboring states, robins will begin to make their way across Florida. Keep an eye on your bird bath. A flock of robins just might stop by for a quick dip and drink.

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Bald Eagle

The Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, is more than the symbol of the United States. They are interesting enough to have an entire day dedicated to them. While Save the Eagles Day originated as a way to raise awareness about the then endangered species, it now serves as a time to learn about the thriving animals. Here are five facts you may not know about eagles:

1. Females weigh more than their male counterparts. The males weigh between 7 and 10 pounds, and females can weigh up to 14 pounds.

2. Eagles can see as much as eight times further than humans and their eyes are equipped with infection-fighting tears.

3. While the bald eagle population has steadily increased after a severe drop, most of the population’s fatalities remain human related. Such as impact with manmade structures, gunshot and poisoning are the leading causes of death.

4. The Bald Eagle emits a surprisingly weak sounding call. Usually, a series of high pitched, whistling or piping notes. The female may repeat a single, soft, high pitched note that signals her readiness to copulate.

5. Eagles can dive up to 100 mph while hunting. When they’re flying casually, they go about 30 mph.

The bald eagle, the national bird of the United States, once on the endangered species list, being on it from 1967 until 1995. It was then reclassified as being threatened. The Eagle was subsequently removed from that list in 2007 and is now listed in the least concern category.
The bald eagle is strongly associated with the United States but eagles are on the coat of arms of Germany and Egypt, as well as Albania’s flag and coat of arms. If you live near eagles, work to protect their habitat. The bald eagle is another example of a species brought to the brink of extinction, that is now thriving.
Photo credit Aymee Laurain

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Florida Grasshopper Sparrow

The Florida Grasshopper Sparrow, Ammodramus savannarum A. s. floridanus, is one of the most endangered birds in Florida with less than 50 breeding pairs left in the wild. A subspecies of the Grasshopper Sparrow, the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow has darker and more gray tones in its plumage and is the only grasshopper sparrow who breeds in Florida. They weigh no more than one ounce as adults. Their coloration and habit of living and nesting in the grass make them almost invisible. The sparrow forages on the ground for small invertebrates, grasshoppers, and seeds. The Sparrow’s nest is a concealed under vegetation but they are extremely vulnerable to predation by snakes, birds of prey, crows, rodents, raccoons, skunks, armadillos, opossums, coyotes, fire ants, and box turtles. Females incubate three to five eggs for approximately 12 days. Chicks leave the nest at around eight days old but will stay in the area and be fed by the parents for a few weeks. The Florida Grasshopper Sparrow’s decline began in the 1970s when native prairie grasslands were converted to cattle grazing pastures, sod production, and other agricultural uses. The Florida Grasshopper Sparrow responds well to restoration efforts. Current conservation efforts in Florida to restore native grasslands and breeding programs may help this critically endangered bird recover.

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Black Vulture

The Black Vulture, Coragyps atratus, is smaller than the Turkey Vulture, although it still is a large raptor. They have a dull black head and body with wrinkles covering their head and face. The tips of their bills are gray and their legs are pale white. Black Vultures have a wingspan of 54 inches and their wings have white tips on the underside. They weigh 3 to 5 pounds and stand 22 inches tall. While in flight, they will hold their wings flat and will flap them more often than the Turkey Vulture.

Black Vultures are monogamous, often not straying far from their mate. Females will lay 1 to 4 egg clutches between February and June in caves, hollow logs, or thickets. Although they do not build nests, they will dig a hollow and put vegetation around it to make it secure. The nesting period can be up to 100 days with the eggs hatching within 40 days. Together, they will feed their young for up to 8 months. This dependence helps establish the strong social bonds these birds exhibit.

As carrion eaters, they are often found in landfills or along roadways where they feed on roadkill. They will usually return to known food sources instead of actively hunting. Black Vultures do not have the keen sense of smell other vultures have and must find their food by sight. You will find them roosting in tall trees or on electrical pylons where they can easily spot food in open areas.

The Black Vulture is protected under Federal Law and can not be killed without a permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Photo Credit: Dan Kon

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #BlackVulture #vulture #raptor

 

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Red-Cockaded Woodpecker

As you saunter through a longleaf pine forest, tortoises feeding on wiregrass and other herbaceous plants of the open forest floor pay you little mind. If you are lucky. If the forest has been able to have fire keep it clean. If there are enough old-growth longleaf pines present to sustain them. If all these things are in your favor, you may be lucky enough to see this little gem.

The red-cockaded woodpecker (Leuconotopicus borealis) is an endangered species across its remaining range. Once found from Florida north to New Jersey and Maryland and west to the eastern parts of Texas and Oklahoma, they are now extirpated from Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, and Tennessee. There are now just over 14,000 estimated individuals in 5,627 known groups left in their shrunken range.

There are a few species that look similar to the red-cockaded woodpecker. One of the good ways to identify this species is by the large, white cheek patch on each side of the head. In males, this patch will have a very small, almost invisible red streak on each side of the white patch (the cockade). They feed on small insects such as grasshoppers, roaches, ants, beetles, caterpillars, and some berries.

Unlike other woodpecker species, the red-cockaded woodpecker nests only in live, old growth pine trees that are infected with red heart fungus. This fungus makes the wood softer for cavity construction. It can take up to two years to construct a cavity and a breeding group, or cluster, will have multiple nest cavities in their home range. The red-cockaded woodpecker is a cooperative breeder with a breeding pair and several helper birds, usually sons from prior hatches. The breeder male will also drill holes under the nest cavity to cause the pine to produce sap flows. This helps prevent nest raiding snakes from entering the hole.

Why did this species decline? Why are they endangered? This species requires old-growth longleaf pine forests that experience frequent fires which keep the forest floor clean and open. That type of forest is among the most endangered ecosystems in the world. Only 3% of the longleaf pine forests remain. Loss of habitat combined with the fire suppression policies of the recent past combined to cause their rapid decline.

BUT……. it’s not all bad news! Through the hard work of hundreds of forest rangers and biologists, there is a population increase in the red-cockaded woodpecker. Restoring the pine forests, returning fire, and carefully relocating individuals to new, healthy forests have helped this species to increase their population. They are not in the clear yet, but with the continued hard work and efforts of these dedicated individuals, this species will delight for generations to come.

Imagine Our Florida would like to thank one of our members, Lynn Marie, for providing these wonderful images she that took in The Ocala National Forest!

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Cooper’s Hawk

— Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) —
The Cooper’s hawk is widely known and dispersed throughout the U.S., lower Canada, and Mexico. You may see this stealth hunter gliding low to the ground to grab its prey in a split second. They are raptors who will eat other medium-sized birds such as robins and jays but will dine on rats, mice, squirrels, bats, and an occasional lizard or snake.
The Cooper’s Hawk was declining in population throughout the U.S. due to hunting and pesticide use, the worst of these was DDT. Since DDT has been banned and hunting in many areas has been curbed, populations have become more stable.
Cooper’s Hawk eggs and hatchlings are susceptible to being food for other animals like raccoons and raptors. When there is a threat near their nest, you will hear them ka-ka-ka-ka.
Remember the circle of life when removing unwanted wildlife from your home. If you use poison to kill a mouse or a rat, the dying animal will likely be eaten by a cat, snake or raptor which will die from the poison too. The poison can also kill a third animal such as a turkey vulture who feeds on the dead raptor, cat or snake.
Connect. Respect. Coexist.
Image by Kon Studio

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Baird’s Sandpiper

My Road trip to Siesta Key Beach on Florida’s West Coast yielded a Rare Baird’s Sandpiper. I have included a range map so you can see it’s way off course and an uncommon visitor here.
Here are some facts about it.
Named for Fullerton Baird, the second secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. Baird’s Sandpiper breeds over a broad expanse of high-arctic North America and in parts of Russia, wintering from the Andes of Ecuador to the lowlands of Tierra del Fuego. Its migration is long but rapid. After departing high-arctic breeding grounds and staging in southern Canada and the northern United States, most individuals travel 6,000 kilometers or more directly to northern South America, some going on as far as Tierra del Fuego and many completing the entire 15,000-kilometer journey in as few as 5 weeks.#lifebird 354

Thank you Paul for sharing this rare sighting of a beautiful Baird’s Sandpiper with all of us at Imagine Our Florida.

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Common Moorhen

– The Common Moorhen —
also known as Marsh Hen or by its scientific name – Gallinula chloropus.

This medium-sized bird is a migratory bird in some parts of the U.S., Canada, South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa but they love Florida and Mexico and stay year round. The Moorhen, a part of the rail family. spends its life on the water and is usually 12 to 15 inches in size when fully grown. In spite of having no webbing on their feet, they are good swimmers. Of course, you can not miss them with their gray-black feathers, a line of white feathers, and a red bill with a yellow tip.
Moorhens are omnivores and love to eat seeds and other plant material floating on the water. They also eat algae, small fish, tadpoles, insects, aquatic roots, berries, grass, snails, insects, rodents, lizards, and worms. On land, you will see them ‘peck’ like a chicken for their food.
Moorhen pairs are monogamous. Females will lay 4 to 12 eggs, laying only one egg a day. The chicks will fledge within 5 to 7 weeks and Momma Moorhen might have another brood later in the season.
Predators such as foxes, dogs, coyotes, and raccoons are the main predators of the moorhen. Large reptiles and Wildcats may also prey on them.
Here you see a moorhen family on the water’s edge.

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Red Shouldered Hawk

Many neighborhoods have hawks who linger about the area. While they mostly prey on small rats, squirrels, and other birds, they will make a meal out of stray animals. If you have a pet, keep them inside or on a leash, secure all holes in your backyard to limit the exposure range, and for extra security, you can get a raptor-proof vest for when you walk your small dog. Making small changes in human behavior helps us coexist with our native critters. It also helps keep them on a diet that may just get rid of the invasive rat species.

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Boat-tailed Grackle

This beautiful male Boat-tailed Grackle is on lookout at the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive. He is a permanent resident of Florida. The bright sun makes the beautiful iridescence of his feathers glow for all to enjoy. Females have a brownish coloration and a smaller tail. Boat-tailed Grackles breed abundantly in salt and freshwater marshes along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. These birds forage on the ground, in shallow water, or in shrubs. They eat arthropods, crustaceans, mollusks, frogs, turtles, lizards, grain, seeds, fruit, and tubers. At times they have been known to steal food from other birds, animals and humans. They overturn shells and stones with their beaks, dunk their heads in water to catch their prey and pry open mussel shells. Just like us, they will dunk food like rice, dogfood or bread before eating it.

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Pileated Woodpeckers

Did you know that the Pileated Woodpecker, aka Dryocopus pileatus, is one of the largest woodpeckers in North America? With a black body, a red crest, white stripes on its neck, and black and white stripes on its face it is hard to miss. Pileated Woodpeckers love to eat insects, fruits, and nuts. A large part of their diet is made up of carpenter ants and beetle larvae. This is why they are always knocking on trees and wood sensing a ‘hollow area’ where the insects may be. Once they have located their dinner, they use their bill to drill into the wood and use their long sticky tongues to drag out the insects. Sometimes they will expand the holes that they create looking for food and make a roost inside the tree to lay their eggs. Tended by both mom and dad, the little hatchlings will be ready to fledge within 1 month. Males and females are similar, but males have a red forehead, and females have a gray to a yellowish brown forehead. If you hear knocking outside, be sure to look up and see if you can spot a stunning Pileated Woodpecker.

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American White Ibis

The American White Ibis is a very common bird. You may have seen a group of them passing through your yard using their beak to probe for insects. The males tend to be larger with longer beaks. They breed along the Gulf Coast and when not breeding they drift further inland and to the Caribbean. These birds are monogamous and both parents help to take care of the young. Aside from garbage the larges threat to these birds is methylmercury that leaks into the environment. This alters the hormones in the birds and interferes with their reproduction and breeding. Methylmercury concentrations are increased when waste and fossil fuels are burned. Resevoir flooding can also cause in increase. This chemical is a neurotoxic and also inhibits part of the endocrine system. It prevents males from producing sex hormones that would lead to courtship behaviors. Courtship behaviors are very important in most birds. Without these behaviors the females will not find an interest in the males and reproduction will not occur. It can also lead to females abandoning their nests and reduced foraging.

Other threats include harvesting of their food source such as crayfish, hunting, degradation of habitat, and other chemical uses. If you see these birds passing through, know that they will help your yard by removing pest insects. If you see smaller brown ibis, those are juveniles. Have you seen Ibis around your house?

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Red-Headed Woodpecker

These fascinating little birds were observed playing a game of hide and seek in an area around Defuniak Springs, Florida. They are sexually dimorphic, which means males and females have different appearances. The female is a plain brown and grey color while the male is a vibrant black, white, and red. They feed on a variety of insects and tree nuts and will often hide their snacks for later. I’m sure some humans can relate. They are monogamous and will stay together for years. Both will take part in creating the nest. Although most of the handwork is done by the male. They build nests in dead trees and prefer open areas including recently burned sites. Sadly, these birds have experienced over a 70% decline in population since the 1960’s. With tree removal becoming a more common practice in both urban areas and forest management these birds are left with few places to raise their young. If you have a dead tree in your yard that isn’t causing a safety problem you may consider leaving it be and perhaps you will get some lovely new neighbors who will entertain you for hours.

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Palm Warbler

Florida has many migratory birds. This Palm Warbler (Setophaga palmarum) is one of them. The Palm Warbler is a fast little bird and getting a picture can be quite a challenge. Luckily, this beauty allowed us to snap a shot before darting off into the Everglades National Park last winter.

Palm Warblers breed throughout much of the boreal forests of Canada during the summer and migrate to the Southeastern U.S., Caribbean, and central America for the winter. These songbirds are quite talented and their songs can be heard throughout the day.

This bird can be seen constantly wagging it’s tail.They are mostly ground feeders and will feed off berries, seeds, and insects including aphids, mosquitoes, beetles, grasshoppers, and spiders. Planting native plants in your yard helps provide these birds with lots of healthy food during their migration.

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Ruddy Turnstone

This Ruddy Turnstone was spotted eating a shrimp at our winter Gandy Beach Clean-up in St. Petersburg, FL. These rock dwelling birds spend the winter months in warmer climates, such as Florida, and migrate back to the Arctic Circle in Alaska in central Canada to breed during summer months. These birds are protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBCA). Despite protection, these birds face numerous threats from deteriorating habitat along coasts to contaminated waters which directly threaten their health but also the health of their food source. Climate change is another risk factor. These birds rely on predictable climate patterns for food and breeding. Like many migratory animals if the climate is offset it could throw off their migration patterns. This means they may have a shorter time to raise their babies or their food sources may not be available when they previously had in the past. One study even estimated that migratory bird populations are likely to decline 66-83% in the next 70 years. (Wouchope et al 2016) These migratory animals are another reason Global warming should be a concern for Floridians.

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Anhinga

— Anhingas (Anhinga anhinga) —

Anhingas are known as snakebirds because they swim with their bodies submerged while stretching their head and neck above the surface of the water, giving them the appearance of a snake about to strike. They are large, dark waterbirds with long, thin necks, bills, tails and silver patches on the wings. Males have greenish black plumage, accentuated by silver-gray feathers on their upper back. Their wings are edged with long white feathers. Females are brown with a lighter brown head and neck.

Anhingas hunt by spearing fish and amphibians with their sharp, slender beaks. They are so powerful that sometimes they have to leave the water with the speared fish and use a rock on the shore to remove the prey. Because of the unusual shape of their wings, and the lack of a gland that secrets oil like other birds, Anhingas become waterlogged. This makes it possible for them to dive easily and stay underwater for long periods of time.

After hunting, Anhingas sit in shrubs and trees with their back to the sun and stretch out their wings. This posture helps to dry their water-logged wings and warm their body after exposure to cold water. They prefer shallow, slow-moving, sheltered waters for hunting with access to nearby perches and banks for drying and sunning themselves.

Anhingas are monogamous. The male gathers the nesting materials and the female weaves together the nest. They are known to reuse the same nest year after year. The female will typically lay from two to six pale bluish-green eggs. The parents share incubation of the eggs for 25 to 30 days. Chicks will stay in the nest for 3 weeks. At 6 weeks they will climb onto the branch and fledge. They stay with their parents several more weeks before becoming independent.

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #Anhinga #Snakebird

This photo is of a male. Their scientific name is one that everyone can remember, Anhinga anhinga.

A common sight all across Florida, these birds occupy a variety of mostly freshwater habitats. They prefer slow moving lakes, ponds and backwater areas but can be found in saltwater areas as well. Excellent fishers, they dive to spear small fish and other small aquatic life. After fishing, they perch and dry their wings, as seen in this photo, so that they can fly again.

Protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, the species is considered of least concern due to their stable population across their massive range. Apart from natural predators such as alligators, bobcats, and panthers; they are susceptible to being entangled in discarded fishing line. Their aquatic lifestyle also means that is pollutants are present in the water, Anhinga are susceptible to accumulating these contaminants.

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Osprey

The Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is a bird of prey that is commonly seen along coastal habitats within Florida. These birds have a brown upper body, white underside and a black line across their eyes. They can reach 2 feet in length and have a 6-foot wingspan. These raptors hunt for food by using their keen senses, especially their vision, and kill prey with their talons. This is the only raptor with a reversible toe that can grasp prey with two toes in front and two toes in the back. They will soar high above their prey and dive feet first often submerging themselves to catch their prey. Their feet are barbed to be able to hold on to slippery fish. Osprey nests are large platforms built mainly of large sticks, sod, and grasses high above the ground although they will use any high man-made structure. A female Osprey will be attracted to the male that can provide the best nest. Osprey mate for life and will have between 2 to 4, creamy white blotched brown eggs a year. The eggs do not hatch all at once but will hatch 3 to 5 days apart. They fledge at 8 weeks and reach sexual maturity at 3 years of age. Because of its highly visible nest, the Osprey is a prime indicator species that can be used to monitor habitat conditions, fish populations, and overall environmental health.

 

 

 

A Happy Osprey with a Fish

Also called the Fish Hawk, the Osprey is a medium-sized raptor that can be found throughout Florida. These apex predators are fascinating to watch as they catch their prey and enjoy eating it. There are many different species of Osprey and even two species who have been documented to be extinct. One of those species, the Pandion lovensis, was discovered through fossils here in Florida. The fossils dated back to the Tortonian stage of the late Miocene sub-Epoch of the Clarendonian age. That’s about 9 million years ago. During this time Florida was only an island. it spanned from the eastern Panhandle and curved down a narrow stretch of the gulf coast to central Florida. During this time temperatures were reducing and the Earth was going into the ice age known as the Quaternary glaciation. This process took approximately 3 million years in which average global temperatures dropped to between 4-7 degrees Celsius. Not all areas had ice. Florida was much cooler but was not part of the freeze. Despite the lack of a freeze, conditions could have presented the Pandion lovensis ability to survive. Fortunately, the Pandion haliaetus shown in this video managed to adapt to these conditions. Because of its ability to adapt, we can enjoy watching this magnificent bird almost anywhere we go throughout Florida.

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