Of the hundreds of native birds in Florida, birders group them into two main categories: water birds such as seabirds, long-legged shore birds, smaller shore birds, ducks and other water birds; and land birds, which include game birds, birds of prey, ground-nesting birds and birds that nest in trees or elevated media. Although Florida is a birdwatcher's paradise, not all these birds breed in the Sunshine State.
Birds flying overhead, called seabirds, include the large brown and American white pelicans; laughing and ringed gulls, which get their names from these descriptions; Forester’s and royal terns--the small dive-bombing birds; and black skimmers, the small black birds that fly close to the top of the waves in one large group. Of the long-legged birds that walk along the edge of a wetland, you find: white egrets with yellow beaks; blue, green and white herons; pinkish ibises; wood storks that build their nests above lakes and ponds; endangered brown limpkins that eat apple snails; white and sandhill cranes; and dull-looking bitterns. Smaller shore birds include brown-speckled rails, purple gallinules, black coots, orange-billed black or black-and-white oystercatchers, neck-tied plovers, and brown and tan sandpipers. Ducks include the black-bellied and fulvous whistling ducks; dabbling ducks like the green-headed mallards and the teals that have heads that look like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle; diving ducks like the canvasback and redhead; and the hooded and red-breasted mergansers. The other swimmers group comprises the common loons in their speckled feathers, the horned and pie bald grebes, double-crested cormorants and the snake-like anhingas.
Knowing a bird’s habitat makes identification easy. Land birds come in many shapes and sizes. You find game birds on the ground. They don’t fly much, and include the white and reddish brown bobwhite; brown turkeys; and the white and grey mourning, rock and common ground doves. In Florida, large birds of prey--like the black and turkey vultures, kites, hawks and eagles--you may see circling in the sky as brown spots. Only with binoculars and an experienced guide can you learn to identify them accurately. Often, you can find burrowing owls in the ground, barn owls in old buildings and barns, screech owls and great horned owls in trees. Smaller birds include the tiny but colorful hummingbirds and noisy woodpeckers and scrub jays.
Help Along the Atlantic Flyway
Some cities in Florida have joined the Fort Lauderdale Flyway Coalition, which works to help, protect and give endangered species such as the American kestrel, black-throated blue warbler, painted bunting, broadwing hawk, bald eagle, roseate spoonbill, white ibis, snowy egret and other endangered and threatened species a place to rest securely along the Atlantic Flyway. Development and pollution have destroyed many of their habitats, making their trips more dangerous.
- NSiS: Florida’s Common Waterbirds & Waterfowl
- Field Guide to the Birds of North America; National Geological Society; 1983
- Flyway Cities Coalition Fort Lauderdale
flock of egrets image by Earl Robbins from Fotolia.com