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Everglades National Park (2)  


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Birds

Another of the Everglades' remarkable attractions is its tremendous collection of birds, the largest congregation in the United States. The Everglades provide habitat for nesting birds as well as serving as a stop-off point for many migrating species. All told, about 326 species can be found in the park, attracted by the abundance of fish in the waters of the park as well as other foods. The park contains the greatest concentration of wading birds on the continent of North America. Three of the common varieties are shown below. First is the great blue heron:



Next is the anhinga:


And also there is the egret:





Although the Everglades still has many birds the numbers are actually quite a bit smaller than in earlier times. John James Audubon was astonished at the bird life he observed when he visited in 1832. It is estimated that the population of nesting wading birds, numbering about 2 million in 1870, has declined by as much as 90% since the 1930's and 1940's. In the early part of the century many of the most magnificent species, such as the egret,were hunted almost to extinction for their plumage, then fashionable on women's hats. Although the populations recovered when these hunting activities were declared illegal and the hats went out of style, the more recent interruption in water flow to the glades and destruction of habitat has also had a negative effect on the breeding of the birds.

Among the most magnificent of the wading birds is the great egret, shown below wading in a slough.



The great, or American, egret is readily identifiable with its yellow beak and black legs, as can be seen in the picture below. The great egret is one of the larger birds in the park and may stand between 37 and 41 inches high. This enables it to feed in the deeper portion of the pond, unlike most other wading birds.



One of the most spectacular birds which can be found in the Everglades is the great blue heron, shown below. This bird is the largest and most widespread of the herons, found throughout the continent of North America. These birds may reach 4 feet in height and may have a wingspan up to 7 feet. They have ornamental plumage on both their heads and tails.



The great blue heron forages for small fish, frogs, snakes, salamanders, and even baby alligators. It hunts its prey by standing nearly motionless in the water or stalking with extremely slow, deliberate movements. When it spots prey--it is a sight feeder--it spears fish up to a foot in length or other animals with its long, pointed bill. These beautiful birds tend to hunt and feed by themselves.



One of the most distinctive birds in the Everglades is the Anhinga. It is also known as the "snake bird" because of the shape of its neck and the unusual way it protrudes from the water when the bird swims. The anhinga, which ranges up to about 36 inches in height, has a pointed beak which it uses to spear the fish it hunts.

This bird does not have protective oils on its feathers and does not retain air in them either, allowing it to swim underwater and even dive when it fishes. To warm itself when it comes out of the water, and to dry its wings, it can often be seen perched on a branch with its wings spread in the sun, as can be seen below. Many people believe the bird can't fly until its wings are dry. This isn't true, and this pose is mostly for thermoregulation.



The female anhinga has a slightly different appearance, especailly in the head which is brown rather than black. A female anhinga can be seen in the photograph below.



Below is the rare wood stork, sometimes called the iron head. This variety is the only stork native to North America. Once present in the Everglades in great numbers, the wood stork is presently near extinction. 50 years ago, there were 6500 wood storks; in 1990, there were only 115.



One of the most distinctive features of the stork is its bill which may reach 10 inches in length. The bird swings its lengthy bill back and forth under the water until it makes contact with a fish or other food, after which it snaps on the animal with incredible speed. Therefore, the wood stork needs drying marshes with holes where food will be concentrated to survive. The birds also feed in cooperative groups, eating fish between 2 and 10 inches in length.

The wood stork needs 5 months to rear a brood of young, and in a family of 4 birds may require 450 or more pounds of fish during that time. They typically breed in the park or in other areas in southern Florida in the winter and spring and move to the northern part of the state for the summer season.



The tricolor heron, called "lady of the waters" by Audubon, is one of the most beautiful birds in the park.



It is also sometimes known as the "Louisiana heron."



Another heron is shown below.



One of the most commonly sighted birds in the park is the white ibis, shown below. A day creature, this bird can be seen in great numbers perched in trees and wading in sloughs, lakes, and gator holes. Standing between 22 and 28 inches tall, it uses its long, curved beak to poke into the bottom muck as it wades, probing for invertebrates and other food. As with other birds of the glades the numbers of white ibis have declined precipitously in historical times. Only a twentieth of the numbers of birds which used to exist in the park are still found here.



There are two types of pelicans which are found in the park--the white pelican and the brown pelican, the latter shown below in the pond with an egret, coots, and other birds. The pelican is a favorite with visitors to Florida, and is a sociable bird as well. It captures fish with powerful dives as it flies, but must often empty its famous "pouch" of water before it can take off again. The brown pelican is seen frequently near the shore throughout Florida but seldom ventures inland.



One of the most striking birds is the purple gallinule or moorhen. It's very colorful with its trademark red patch on its forehead. Its red beak is tipped in yellow, its forehead is light blue, its head and breast purple/blue, and its back an iridescent dark green.



The purple gallinule has long toes that allow it to walk on floating plants. One place which the moorhen frequents is some of the holes in the Eco Pond area.



Another picture of one of these birds is shown here.



Another of the more exotic wading birds can be seen below along the Anhinga Trail.



During the dry season, one of the best places to spot birds as well as other wildlife is at the Anhinga Trail next to Taylor Slough. There is always water there and birds and other animals congregate.



A wide variety of birds can usually be found at Eco Pond and in the trees which surround it. Below can be seen an egret, which wading and probably hunting for fish, amphibians, reptiles, or small mammals in in open marsh habitat. Surrounding the egret are some coots (the small black birds with the white heads).



Another picture of a coot is shown to the left below. These birds, somewhat similar to ducks, are numerous in the park. Before creation of the park they were hunted extensively here, their gizzards a favorite prize.



There are a number of other birds in the park in addition to the wading birds. For example, crows can be found in various places around the park.



The turkey vulture lives on carrion which it finds on the ground.



Gulls frequent the docks and other areas near the coast.



The southern bald eagle can also be spotted soaring in the skies above the Everglades. These birds have nested in the park area since the mid 1800's. There are currently about 50 pairs of nesting eagles in the park.


  

An egret, coots, and other birds can be seen on Eco Pond (below). Although there seem to be a large number of birds here and in other places in the park, as mentioned before the numbers are actually quite small compared to what could be found there seventy years ago.



Although the numbers of various species have rebounded, the park's bird resources are still threatened. Hunting is no longer a problem, but loss of habitat and water supplies continue to create problems for these magnificent animals.




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  • All photographs ©Patrick Holleran, Shannon Digital Imaging, 1994-2013

  • Commercial use of the images contained in this document without express written consent is strictly prohibited.

  • Comments and other remarks can be sent via e-mail to parkvision@shannontech.com