Tag Archives: Florida birds

Compare: Little Blue Heron and Snowy Egret

At first glance, these two birds belong in the “white heron/egret” category of wading birds found at water’s edge. Snowy Egret, I thought, before I took a good look.

Jensen bridge.

We were doing that fun John-and-Amy thing where we drive around in our old Jeep with a fishing rod in back. We stop now and then, here and there, for John to cast a few and me to snap a few.

Birds on the seawall and down on the rocks were watching bait fish move in with the tide.

Not the same bird.

These two were close together on the wall.

I got a good look at the legs and feet, bills and lores, and realized one was a Snowy Egret (left) and the other a Little Blue Heron (right), a species that is white as a juvenile.

Snowies have black bills with a yellow patch, or lore, between their beaks and eyes, and yellow feet with black legs (mostly all black, but sometimes just black on the front of their legs!) Young Little Blues have gray-green legs, darker gray-to-black bills that are slightly thicker.

Both are in the Ardeidae family (herons, egrets, bitterns) and the Egretta genus of medium herons mostly breeding in warm climates.

Egretta thula

Looks like somebody was drawing with chalk where this Snowy Egret is standing! I like the yellow feet with the yellow flower.

Egretta caerulea

Little Blue Heron, not a Snowy Egret! Someday this bird will be a lovely, moody blue-gray-purple color, but not yet.

Here’s an adult Little Blue Heron, from photos I took last March.

Is the beach big enough for these two sanderlings?

The blog had a sleepy summer, but now it’s fall and we are on the move again.

My husband and I were driving around in the Jeep yesterday. He brought a lightweight fishing rod and I brought my camera. On Hutchinson Island, we parked at Beachwalk Pasley and went over the small dune to visit the beach before the storm.

No fish for my husband but I observed something I’ve never seen before, a short battle between two initially-peaceful Sanderlings who seemed suddenly to decide the beach was not big enough for both of them. It was like a cockfight in miniature, between a couple of birds weighing about 2 ounces each.

The battle suddenly resolved in a truce and the warriors resumed their rest.

Or are they lovers rather than fighters? Could it be a dance of a mated pair? So hard to tell!

We left as a storm was moving in from the south.

Ovenbird in mangroves

An Ovenbird perches on a mangrove root, yesterday morning at Ocean Bay Riverside on the shores of the Indian River Lagoon on Hutchinson Island in St. Lucie County.

I followed a couple of these charming little birds for a while, trying to get a few good shots in the dim light of a foggy early morning.

According to Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

The Ovenbird’s rapid-fire teacher-teacher-teacher song rings out in summer hardwood forests from the Mid-Atlantic states to northeastern British Columbia. It’s so loud that it may come as a surprise to find this inconspicuous warbler strutting like a tiny chicken across the dim forest floor. Its olive-brown back and spotted breast are excellent disguise as it gleans invertebrates from the leaf litter.

A tiny chicken, I love it. But why is it called an OVENBIRD?

Its nest, a leaf-covered dome resembling an old-fashioned outdoor oven, gives the Ovenbird its name.

I have seen and photographed an Ovenbird just once before, on North Hutchinson Island (also known as Orchid Island) in Vero Beach, at Captain Forster Hammock Preserve, in September 2019, posted here: Not the hammock you swing in. But that photo was not really in focus, so let me add this focused Ovenbird to my collection.

Ovenbirds winter in Florida, Central America, the Caribbean, and northern South America. At Ocean Bay they are seen mid-April through mid-May, then again late September through October.

Seiurus aurocapilla is in its own genus, genetically distinct from the rest of Parulidae, the New World warblers.

The swamphens, mudhens and moorhens of Green Cay

“Welcome to Green Cay!” announces the Red-winged Blackbird, the unofficial mascot of the reconstructed wetlands habitat in western Boynton Beach that is managed by Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation.

Link: Green Cay Nature Center and Wetlands.

A one-and-a-half-mile long boardwalk traverses 100 acres of wetland habitat with SO MANY BIRDS to see! And other creatures too.

Porphyrio poliocephalus is preposterous and pretty.

The Gray-headed Swamphen…

is related to Florida’s native Common Gallinule, Purple Gallinule, and American Coot, the bigger, bulkier Swamphen looks superficially like a Purple Gallinule on massive doses of steroids. The Swamphen is an Old World species and is a relatively recent newcomer to Florida’s wetlands, being first recorded in Pembroke Pines, Florida in 1996, having likely escaped or been released from a private bird collection.

The Common Gallinule is the most common of the rail family in Florida, and possibly North America. Old timers call them moorhens.

Green Cay is a great place to see moorhens, swamphens, mudhens – all strange, long-legged denizens of freshwater marshes and members of the Rail family, Raillidae.

“Rail” is the anglicized respelling of the French râle, from Old French rasle. It is named from its harsh cry, in Vulgar Latin rascula, from Latin rādere (“to scrape”).

You would not think the striking colors of a Purple Gallinule provide camouflage… until you see these birds among blossoming pickerel weed.

Lurking in the marshes of the extreme southeastern U.S. lives one of the most vividly colored birds in all of North America. Purple Gallinules combine cherry red, sky blue, moss green, aquamarine, indigo, violet, and school-bus yellow, a color palette that blends surprisingly well with tropical and subtropical wetlands. Watch for these long-legged, long-toed birds stepping gingerly across water lilies and other floating vegetation as they hunt frogs and invertebrates or pick at tubers.

Another purple flower in the swamp: alligator flag.

Large leaves of the alligator flag, a native Florida wetlands plant.

Looking down from my dry perch on the boardwalk, I spied a Common Gallinule with a mostly-bald chick.

The chicks are precocial, leaving the nest one day after hatching. Parents feed them for about three weeks.

Not something you see every day! And one of many good reasons to get to Green Cay in spring.

An American Coot makes an appearance.

The waterborne American Coot is one good reminder that not everything that floats is a duck. A close look at a coot—that small head, those scrawny legs—reveals a different kind of bird entirely. Their dark bodies and white faces are common sights in nearly any open water across the continent, and they often mix with ducks. But they’re closer relatives of the gangly Sandhill Crane and the nearly invisible rails than of Mallards or teal.

The American Coot is also known as a mudhen.

I’ve only seen these birds a few times. I could hear a couple of old guys nearby talking about what they were seeing and I could tell they knew their birds so I doublechecked and asked, “Can you tell me, is that an American Coot?”

One of them said, “Yes, that’s an American Coot… and we’re Old Coots.”

These old coots know their coots and rails.

Another one of the preposterous swamphens (Gray-headed) snacking on roots and shoots.

More on this non-native bird from the first time I saw one, in October 2017: Escaped swamphens thrive in Florida wetlands.

If you crossed a small purple dinosaur with a backyard hen you would get the Gray-headed Swamphen. They do run around (seemingly on top of the water) like sleeker, more athletic chickens. Their feather colors are beautiful.

The mascots of Green Cay are also the guardians of Green Cay. These Red-winged Blackbirds said, “Not in my backyard!” to this Red-shouldered Hawk.

Sneaking up on a Green Heron

At a busy park this morning there was a bird who doesn’t like to be seen, a Green Heron.

There were pigeons, ibises, cormorants and a variety of ducks in and around the large pond at Indian Riverside Park, and many people walking or sitting. But this Green Heron was not into the park scene.

He flew to a smaller pond away from the people and other birds. I followed.

From a distance, the Green Heron is a dark, stocky bird hunched on slender yellow legs at the water’s edge, often hidden behind a tangle of leaves. Seen up close, it is a striking bird with a velvet-green back, rich chestnut body, and a dark cap often raised into a short crest.

Green Herons usually hunt by wading in shallow water, but occasionally they dive for deep-water prey and need to swim back to shore—probably with help from the webs between their middle and outer toes.

Green Herons are common and widespread, but they can be hard to see at first. Whereas larger herons tend to stand prominently in open parts of wetlands, Green Herons tend to be at the edges, in shallow water, or concealed in vegetation. Visit a wetland and carefully scan the banks looking for a small, hunch-backed bird with a long, straight bill staring intently at the water.

And nearby, look for a medium-sized woman hunched over her camera staring intently at a wading bird.

There, it raised its crest briefly.

Green Herons also have much longer necks than you realize when you look at them in the typical “hunched” position. See the photo at the top of this post for the neck-extended view. Up periscope!

Decorating the wild blue

I peeked between some pine trees yesterday and saw a Great Egret.

A slow flap of large white wings.

About five egrets passed by, one after another.

I enjoyed the flyby.

White Ibis too.

The white 4Runner is mine. I had just gotten out of the car and was standing under the pines when the white birds starting flying south along the canal that runs on the east side of Green River Parkway, at the Martin County/ St. Lucie County border.

Then came the pink bird. This Roseate Spoonbill was heading north.

I was heading south along the bike trail for a culvert where I usually see a variety of wading birds.

But for some reason they were all in the sky yesterday around noon.

Wood Stork nesting season begins at Bird Island

This is a post about getting close to Wood Storks. But not too close. It’s the beginning of nesting season and we don’t want to pester them too much.

We borrowed a small boat from our boat club and heading out of Manatee Pocket towards the Five Corners then into the Indian River Lagoon.

On the way out of the Pocket, we saw dolphins. You can just see a fin in the center of the above photo.

The water in the Indian River Lagoon was clean and clear and beautiful! We liked the name of this trawler, heading north on the Intracoastal Waterway… “Quite Nice.”

Just east of Sewall’s Point, there is a small island popular with roosting and nesting water birds and wading birds.

Bird Island.

Birds ahead!

Nesting season has begun for the Wood Storks and this is a favorite spot for them in the region.

Wood Storks occur only in a few areas in the United States, so to get a look at one, head to a wetland preserve or wildlife area along the coast in Florida, South Carolina, or Georgia.

Boats are supposed to stay outside these signs, and we did. So bring your binoculars and telephoto lens.

Other birds that like Bird Island include the Brown Pelican and the Roseate Spoonbill.

Wood Storks are gangly – a little over three feet tall with a wing span of five feet. They drop their legs and feet forward like this as they near a landing spot.

A Wood Stork turning for Bird Island, with the bridge between Sewall’s Point and Hutchinson Island beyond.

Roseate Spoonbills are in the air too.

I could loiter in this spot for hours… although an east wind can bring a strong scent of bird poop.

Great Blue Heron on the sandy beach.

“Look out below. Here I come, everybody!”

Wood Storks nest in trees above standing water. They build nests in cypress swamps, in oaks in flooded impoundments, in mangroves, and in flooded areas with black gum and Australian pine. Almost any tree or shrub will do as long as standing water is present.

Wood Storks are colonial nesters, like many other bird species.

The habit of nesting in groups is believed to provide better survival against predators in several ways. Many colonies are situated in locations that are naturally free of predators. In other cases, the presence of many birds means there are more individuals available for defense. Also, synchronized breeding leads to such an abundance of offspring as to satiate predators.

For seabirds, colonies on islands have an obvious advantage over mainland colonies when it comes to protection from terrestrial predators. Other situations can also be found where bird colonies avoid predation.

I think the majority of the nesting Wood Storks in Florida are found in freshwater habitats like cypress swamps and in the Everglades. We are lucky to have a colony here on our coast.

Despite the myth that Wood Storks mate for life, pairs form at the breeding colony and stay together only for a single breeding season. Males initially are hostile to the female, but once he accepts her into the territory he starts preening her and offering her sticks.

I have never noticed Wood Storks feeding in the waters immediately around Bird Island, but I have seen them many times at freshwater ponds and marshes further inland, or in ditches along roadsides.

Some days they soar overhead on thermals like vultures or raptors.

This stork is carrying a stick back to the island. I’ve seen them “perched” awkwardly in treetops in south Sewall’s Point, noisily breaking off branches.

Males and females gather sticks from the surrounding areas. Together they build a large, bulky stick nest 3–5 feet wide. They line the nest with greenery that eventually gets covered in guano, which helps hold the nest together. Nest building typically takes 2–3 days, but the pair continues to make improvements throughout the nesting period.

We were birdwatching, but then we got a chance to do some fishwatching!

I think a tarpon was chasing these mullet. I saw a big one near our boat right before this.

Beyond is a house in the Sewall’s Point neighborhood called The Archipelago.

There are usually fish here in this little corner close to shore, but this is the first time I’ve seen a show like this.

The Great Egret was flying near the island. Note how they fold up their necks in flight, unlike Wood Storks that fly with their necks extended.

White Ibis passed the island in a V formation (necks extended).

This Brown Pelican (neck folded) passed close to our boat. Wingspan of these birds range from 6.5 to 7.5 feet!

The water was so clear, we could see underwater creatures moving here and there. This was one of two pair of Spotted Eagle Rays cruising around together, over a shallow sandy bottom.

After Bird Island, we wanted to go ashore on one of the other mangrove islands in the lagoon. We passed this one, that we have nicknamed Hot Dog Island for a couple of picnics we’ve had there.

We went ashore on Boy Scout Island (it’s real name, locally) and spent an hour swimming, exploring, idly casting a line without catching anything except rays – the kind from the sun.

The water is so clean and beautiful now, since we haven’t had any polluted and algae-laden discharges from Lake Okeechobee in a while.

The Army Corps of Engineers is rewriting their regulation schedule that determines when discharges will occur. Our local Congressman Brian Mast shares more information HERE (Army Corps Must Seize Once In A Decade Opportunity To Stop Discharges), including a link to the Army Corps email where you can share your views on this topic. I will be writing to them!

Birds in motion and birds at rest at Indian Riverside Park

This Snowy Egret was dancing across the water at Indian Riverside Park in Jensen Beach.

Black legs contrast with the snowy’s bright yellow feet, which are nicknamed “golden slippers.”

Those feet seem to play a role in stirring up or herding small aquatic animals as the egret forages.

In contrast, this juvenile White Ibis was perfectly still and perfectly balanced on one leg along the shore.

This cormorant surfaced after searching for fish under water.

Muscovy Ducks were loafing near a place where people bring bread and even popcorn to feed the birds.

Also happy to chow down some popcorn, a pair of Egyptian Geese can often be seen around the edges of this popular pond.

The Egyptian Goose in Florida

I find grackles and crows

This grackle is like a centerpiece in a cabbage palm bouquet.

Blue-black with a tinge of green, I love the iridescence of a male grackle’s feathers.

Female grackles are dark brown and smaller than the males. They go about their business, foraging with focus, while the males flash around, calling, and stirring up trouble.

This male grackle is pestering a crow who is working to get a peanut out of its shell.

I find grackles and crows under in the east causeway park, under the Ernest P. Lyons Bridge between Sewall’s Point and Hutchinson Island. I was there yesterday. It’s close to home and I wanted to grab a few bird photos before the front passed through.

Looking north into a coming storm. It’s a busy park on weekends, in good weather. People fish here, have picnics, launch boats at the ramp, or go kitesurfing off the narrow beach.

Chubby gull.

The black band on its yellow bill identifies this as a Ring-billed Gull. There are more of them here in winter. They breed elsewhere, in summer.

A study in coastal grays. (That’s the Jensen Beach Bridge, further north in the Indian River Lagoon.)

Adults are clean gray above, with a white head, body and tail; their black wingtips are spotted with white. They have yellow legs and a yellow bill with a black band around it. Nonbreeding adults have brown-streaked heads. 

Why do I think these are Boat-tailed Grackles? The other two species in North America are Common Grackles and Great-tailed Grackles.

Great-tailed and Boat-tailed have long tails like the bird above, but Great-tailed are not found in Florida. Common Grackles are smaller, with shorter tails, and they favor open fields, lawns, towns, but not marsh or saltwater areas.

When you smell saltwater on the East Coast, it’s time to look out for Boat-tailed Grackles. The glossy blue-black males are hard to miss as they haul their ridiculously long tails around or display from marsh grasses or telephone wires. The rich, dark-brown females are half the size of males and look almost like a different species. Boat-tailed Grackles take advantage of human activity along our increasingly developed coast, scavenging trash and hanging out in busy urban areas away from predators.

Of course crows also take advantage of human activity, like this one that has scavenged a peanut. The male Boat-tailed Grackle is on the left and Fish Crow is on the right. Crows are a bit larger than grackles, with a thicker bill and duller black feathers.

I know it’s a Fish Crow rather than an American Crow mostly because I learned a general rule from local birders that all crows east of Route 1 in this area are Fish Crows and I heard this one’s nasal call and saw it fluff its neck feathers like a raven.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology: How do you tell a Fish Crow from an American Crow?

All my Fish Crows. All my Boat-tailed Grackles.

eBird: Grackles – Are you getting them right?