birds

House Sparrow

House sparrows were introduced at various stages throughout New York (Barrows 1889), Maine, Massachusetts, and Nova Scotia. Some of these releases were a sentimental connection to the homeland of many European immigrants. Others were to help control cankerworms or linden moths(Marshall 2014). In some cases, the release of house sparrows failed and the birds died without breeding. One of the more successful attempts was in Nova Scotia. This population spread and the presence of other populations in the U.S. Northeastern states may have helped them thrive.

Today, house sparrows have spread throughout all of the United States, most of Mexico, and the southern parts of Canada. They have even made their way to South America. In most regions, they are considered an invasive species due to their aggressive and territorial tenancies. They will even go to such extremes as to damage the nests of other birds. They out-compete many native birds for food and reproduce at a rapid rate making them difficult to control. Oddly enough, many places in Europe are seeing declines in house sparrow populations. The United Kingdom has a 71% reduction since the mid-1990s. This decline has been linked to avian malaria and areas of increased nitrogen dioxide. Italy experienced a 49% decline in house sparrow populations from reductions in nesting sites, reduced food availability, and possible disease. Paris reported a 12.4% reduction by year primarily due to city gentrification. Yet, these birds continue to thrive in North America.

One way you can help is by providing a nesting box for house sparrows. If eggs are laid you can simply poke them with a pin to prevent the eggs from further developing. Removing the eggs entirely can cause the female to produce more eggs at a faster rate. Removing an entire nest could force sparrows into more wild landscapes and could pose a greater threat to native birds. While we might never be able to fully eradicate house sparrows from Florida, it never hurts to try and reduce the growing population.

The photos below show a male (Left) and female (Right). They are sexually dimorphic with the male having a classic black mask across his eyes.

Photo credit: Aymee Laurain
Reference:
Barrows, W.B. (1889). “The English Sparrow (Passer domesticus) in North America, Especially in its Relations to Agriculture”. United States Department of Agriculture, Division of Economic Ornithology and Mammalogy Bulletin (1).

https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsos.182197

https://www.theguardian.com/…/pollutionwatch-city-sparrows-…

https://www.researchgate.net/…/230139769_Recent_declines_in…

Malher, F. and Maintigneux, P., 2019, The House Sparrow in Paris: decline and monitoring, AGIR pour la biodiversité.

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #Getoutside #Willdlife

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Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park

Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park

“This park is like nothing else in Florida. Being able to see the stars at night in unbelievable detail was absolutely worth the trip.” Jonathan Holmes, IOF Contributor

There is a place in Florida that is world-renowned for stargazing. Designated as a Dark Sky Park due to the absence of light pollution, the stars and planets can be enjoyed the way nature intended.

Located in Okeechobee, Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park is part of the headwaters to the Everglades and is the largest remaining dry prairie ecosystem in Florida. Once spanning coast to coast and from Lake Okeechobee to Kissimmee, the prairie has been reduced to a mere 10% of its original expanse.

Throughout the years, humans have altered the prairie to suit their needs. The State Park is working to restore the land to pre-European influence. Over 70 miles of ditches and canals have been restored to swales and sloughs. Old plow lines are slated for reconditioning, and a cattle pasture will be restored to native shrubs and grasses. As a fire and flood dependent ecosystem, these efforts will allow the prairie to thrive once again.

The most famous resident of the prairie is the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow. Critically endangered, the sparrows rely on a healthy prairie ecosystem for survival. Crested Caracaras, Burrowing Owls, Wood Storks, Swallow-Tail Kites, and White-Tail Kites find refuge at the park. Watch for Bald Eagles, White-tailed Deer, and Indigo Snakes. Native wildflowers are abundant. Look for Blazing Stars, Yellow Bachelors Buttons, Meadow Beauty, Pipewort, and Alligator Lilies.

There is plenty to do at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve. Hiking, horseback riding, and biking are wonderful ways to experience Nature up close. Camping, primitive camping, and equestrian camping are offered for those who want to spend the night. A ranger-led prairie buggy tour and an astronomy pad are spectacular ways to enjoy the park.

For reservations, times, fees, and more click here:
https://www.floridastateparks.org/…/kissimmee-prairie-prese…

Photo Credit – Jonathan Holmes

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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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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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Old Miakka Preserve

 Old Miakka Preserve

Named after a settlement in the 1840s, Old Miakka Preserve contains four miles of trails including scrub habitat, pinewood flatwood, and wetlands. The preserve is abundant in flowering plants with numerous pollinators and occasional gopher tortoises. One of the trails is named after Horticulturalist Tim Cash who spent years studying plants within the preserve. If you are looking for a calm trail with lots of sunshine and flowers, visit Old Miakka Preserve in Sarasota, FL.

Have you visited any interesting preserves lately? Message us with your pictures and some fun facts about your visit. Imagine Our Florida will feature your story as a Saturday saunter contributor.

Photo credit: Aymee Laurain

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #OldMiakkareserve #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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Canaveral National Seashore

Playalinda Beach at Canaveral National Seashore

Imagine spending a day at the seashore, a day free of condos, hotels, and tourists. A day where you can be one with nature in a place where you feel the power of the ocean, hear the pounding of the waves and share all of that glory with only your friends and the wildlife who make their home there.

There is a little known gem in Florida known as Playalinda Beach. It is a part of Canaveral National Seashore. Take a trip to Titusville, go east on Garden Street and continue driving east until you reach the beach. The ocean is not visible from your car. As you drive parallel to the ocean, you will see sand dunes on your right. There are 13 parking areas, each with its own boardwalk. Any of the boardwalks will lead you over the sand dunes where the ocean in all of its magnificence will appear before your eyes.

There you will meet some of the 310 species of birds found at Canaveral National Seashore, including migratory birds, who will enjoy the beach with you. If you are lucky, you may meet a loggerhead, green or leatherback sea turtle who makes her nest in the sand or hatchlings as they make their way to the ocean. Enjoy your day swimming, surfing, sunbathing, fishing, and bird watching.

Stop along the way to or from the beach and explore by car or on foot, some of Canaveral National Seashore ecosystems. These include a barrier island, offshore waters, lagoon, coastal hammock, and pine flatwoods. Outdoor experiences include canoeing, kayaking, boating, hiking, camping, and historical trails.

There is an abundance of wildlife and wildflowers at Cape Canaveral National Seashore. Keep your eyes open for bobcats, raccoons and more. Look for beautiful flowers and the pollinators among them. We hope you encounter some of the threatened species who make their homes there. You may see Florida scrub jays, Southern bald eagles, wood storks, peregrine falcons, eastern indigo snakes, and manatees.

Take a day, or two, or three, and immerse yourself in the beauty of natural Florida, the way nature intended it to be.

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #Playalinda #CanaveralNationalSeashore

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Spring Hammock Preserve

Once known as Devil’s bend, Spring Hammock Preserve is made up of several ecosystems including hydric hammock, cyprus dome, floodplain forest, mesic flatwoods, and scrubby flatwoods. It is a wetland and watershed area which acts as a natural filtering system for Soldier’s Creek Drainage Basin which eventually drains into Lake Jesup.

Located in Seminole County, Old Bear Trail which is now known as County Road (CR) 427, runs through Spring Hammock Preserve. The preserve is accessible from County Road 419. The Senator, the world’s largest living cypress tree made it’s home here for over 3,500 years before being burnt down by a human.

On the hiking trails, you may encounter wildlife such as gopher tortoises and alligators. If you are lucky, you may even see an indigo snake who makes his home here. Bird viewing opportunities include migrating birds as well as wood storks, limpkins, snowy egrets, and bald eagles who share space at the preserve. Trees in the preserve include longleaf pine, loblolly pine, slash pine, scrub oak, sweet gum, and bald cypress. Be on the lookout for native plants such as the Florida willow, Okeechobee gourd, and cuplet fern.

Make a plan to get outside and explore natural Florida.
You will be surprised at what you will discover.

Photo credit: Andy Waldo

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #SpringHammockPreserve #explore #discover

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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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Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park

Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park
There’s something for everyone at Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park!

Nature trails, birding, equestrian trails, biking, walking, jogging, camping, cabins, picnic areas, horseshoe games, volleyball court, pavilions, and playgrounds assure your entire family will enjoy their day. You can even bring your dog on a 6-foot leash to the hiking or paved bike trail.

You can easily spend an entire day here as you explore this beautiful park of 8,300 acres located in New Port Richey. Take your time as you wander through the wilderness and discover an abundance of wild plants and animals who make their home there. Leave your cares behind while you spend quality time with your family and friends reconnecting with nature. Get Outside. Explore. Discover.

Learn more and/or make reservations here:
https://www.pascocountyfl.net/…/Jay-B-Starkey-Wilderness-Pa…

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #SaturdaySaunter #getoutside #explore#discover

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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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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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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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