Peregrine Falcon

A perched peregrine falcon.

A perched peregrine falcon.

Though the peregrine falcon is certainly not exclusive to South Florida, the species is one of the Everglades’ greatest hunters. The name peregrine falcon literally means “wandering falcon”, and the species has up to nineteen listed subspecies, though one or two of these are currently up for scientific debate. They are members of the raptor family, and though not great in size – caping out at around two pounds and a couple of feet in length – they are one of the most feared and respected birds throughout the world.

This well known bird of prey can be found on six of the seven continents and is quite versatile in its habitat. Because of this, it is one of the most widespread species of all birds, and is only absent from areas of extreme cold, extreme altitude, and extreme rainfall. In fact, only the rock pigeon is more widespread than the peregrine falcon, a species which is actually one of the later’s most desirable prey. Like the rock pigeon, peregrine falcons are becoming more and more common in populated cities, though they do prefer low mountain ranges, river valleys, and open coastlines.

The peregrine falcon is the single fastest species that can be found in the entire animal kingdom. In fact, with the highest measured speed of a peregrine falcon coming in at 242 mph, these amazing birds can beat out most top of the line sports vehicles as well. The peregrine falcon, however, only reaches these extreme speeds during a stoop, which is a hunting tactic in which the raptor first climbs to a high altitude before diving steeply towards its prey. And, for the estimated 1,500-2,000 species of smaller birds that the peregrine falcon feeds on worldwide, being caught in this predator’s line of site while hunting is an almost sure sign of impeding death.

While notable for its great speeds, the peregrine falcon is perhaps most famous for its trainability as a falconry bird. In this hunting tactic, a trained falcon stalks and kills its prey, but instead of eating its capture itself, it returns its victim willingly to its human owner. The earliest accounts of the practice of falconry occurred in 2,000 BC, and are not only evidence of the interesting relationship that has existed between human beings and these birds for centuries, but are strong evidence for the extreme level of intelligence these birds possess as well.

For your chance of spotting a peregrine falcon in the wild, as well as for other amazing bird-watching opportunities in South Florida, there’s truly nothing better than an airboat tour through the Everglades. No one knows the area better than an experienced Florida swamp tour guide, and you’ll find just that with Captain Mitch and his friendly crew.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

A red-bellied woodpecker in a tree.

A red-bellied woodpecker in a tree.

The red-bellied woodpecker may be one of the loudest species of birds that can be found in the Florida Everglades today. Like many of the species that can be found within the woodpecker family, this tiny, yet beautiful bird, was given the name “woodpecker” for a reason. They are true professionals when it comes to drilling holes into wood, utilizing their strong beaks in this way for purposes ranging from foraging for food to leaving warning messages outside of their dens.

The name of the red-bellied woodpecker, however, is quite misleading, as it is not the belly of this species of woodpecker that is red at all, but the cap of its head. Unfortunately, the name “red-headed woodpecker” was already taken by a close relative in the woodpecker family, so the red-bellied woodpecker had to settle for something slightly less descriptive. They are quite attractive birds, however, with gray or tan feathers on their faces and bellies and white and black barred patterns on their wings. They are also quite petite birds, only reaching lengths of about 10 inches and with wingspans no more than 18 inches long.

Like most, if not all woodpecker species, the red-bellied woodpecker is most known by its loud vocalizations and drumming behaviors. Both males and females will both call and drum, communicating with others of their species who are nearby. Males, however, do have a tendency to drum more than females, and this behavior is often associated with the attraction of a mate. These intense vocalizations start almost at birth for these woodpeckers, as babies will call for food from their parents when they are just fledglings.

When feeding, a red-bellied woodpecker will use its incredibly strong beak as a powerful tool, either probing into cracks in the wood or drilling its own holes when no cracks exist. Once food has been located, the woodpecker will use its long tongue to pull it out, usually feeding on either small insects or food previously stored by other animals deep within the wood. Like many other birds, red-bellied woodpeckers will then exhibit foraging behavior themselves by later storing this food in their own private locations.

Red-bellied woodpeckers also depend on dead and decaying wood for other reasons, such as for nesting, breeding, and shelter from potential predators. Because they are so small, they have many potential predators in the Everglades and surrounding suburban areas, such as hawks, owls, snakes, other species of woodpeckers, and even house cats. However, despite their small size, red-bellied woodpeckers are known to be quite territorial and fiercely protective over their nests, and will get aggressive with predators many times their size when watching out for their young.

While fewer red-bellied woodpeckers are being seen in southern Florida theses days, they can still be spotted occasionally by birdwatchers in the Everglades and by families on Everglades airboat tours. In fact, this is one bird species that can be found on an Everglades swamp tour that you’ll likely hear coming before you see it!

Rock Dove

rock doves

A group of rock doves.

The rock dove, sometimes simply referred to as a “pigeon,” can be found all around the world, and in some places is so common that it can even be considered a nuisance or pest. In Europe alone, where rock doves originated, there are estimated to be between 17 and 28 million feral doves living in the wild. In the United States, where rock doves continue to thrive since having been introduced in the 1600’s, the species can be found both in and around heavily populated cities, as well as in more reclusive areas like the Florida Everglades.

Rock doves can be found on every continent except for Antartica, and it is perhaps this widespread nature that results in such a variation in their appearances. However, across the species, the average adult can be found reaching lengths of about 15 inches and with wingspans of about 24-28 inches. The heads of rock doves are a dark blueish-gray, with iridescence along their necks in shades of yellow, green, red, and purple. Rock doves also tend to have quite strikingly orange-yellowish eyes, which stand out even more so against their somewhat subdued body coloring. What is perhaps most interesting about their appearance is that the males and females of the species are nearly identical, a feature that is somewhat rare in the animal kingdom in general.

Rock doves and their relatives are highly susceptiple to predation, and because they are so common in urban areas in addition to more natural habitats, they are likely one of the main sources of food for raptorial birds all around the world. They are also hunted by many mammals on the ground as well, and are considered a game bird in many cultures around the world. In Southwest Florida, where rock dove populations blend seamlessly with the human populations around them, the greatest threat to rock doves is said to be feral cats.

Because pigeons have often been seen around major cities, scavenging for food seemingly wherever they can get it, they have often unfairly been associated with the spread of human disease. And while rock doves have been shown to carry certain diseases, they seem mostly unable to transmit them to humans. And while the presence of such birds in cities and towns around the world has led them to be considered a nuisance in some places, it is actually the release of domesticated pigeons into the wild by humans that has led to such large populations of feral pigeons in the first place.

Over the years, rock doves have made somewhat popular pets for those willing to put in the training, and have proved to be intelligent and adaptable birds. There’s a good reason while you’ll see doves or pigeons of some variety used by magicians or as homing birds – this species is highly trainable for a variety of uses. Proving to be useful carrier birds, rock doves were even supposedly used during World War I, and it’s even reported that a few dozen special pigeons received medals for their services.

Rock doves are just one of the many species of beautiful and interesting birds that you’ll find in the Florida Everglades, easily observable from a fun and exciting airboat ride. To view these birds for yourself and so much more that the Everglades has to offer, schedule an Everglades airboat tour for your family today!

Wild Turkey

wild turkey

A pair of wild turkeys.

Most people have probably heard of both domestic turkeys and wild turkeys, though you may be surprised to find out that these are actually one and the same species. However, far fewer people are likely to have encountered turkeys in the wild than they are to have encountered them each year on their Thanksgiving table, and if you’ve ever seen a group of turkeys crossing the road in front of your car, you may not be likely to associate them with your favorite holiday meal.

While domestic turkeys and wild turkeys are the same species, domestic turkeys are raised specifically for their poultry and other uses while wild turkeys are able to take their chances in the open, though they still risk being hunted for their game meat. Because of the differences in their environments, domestic turkeys tend to reach sizes of almost double that of wild turkeys, though collectively they are the largest species of the Galliformes. The average adult male turkey (called a “tom”) weighs between 20 and 25 pounds, though males weighing in at over 30 pounds are not rare.

Wild turkeys have proven to be highly adaptable to most environments that provide both a dense plant community and a scattering of openings such as fields and marshes. Temperature doesn’t seem to be too much of an issue, and for this reason, wild turkeys can be found as far north as Michigan and as far south as Florida and even into Central America. In Florida, wild turkeys most enjoy the bald cypress swamps of south Florida and the hardwood hammocks of northern and central Florida.

While there are a few natural predators of wild turkeys in and around south Florida, such as panthers and great horned owls, human beings are, not surprisingly, the wild turkey’s greatest predator. And although wild turkeys are game hunted throughout Florida and much of the United States, this does not mean that they all go down without a fight. While not aggressive in most situations, adult turkeys can act aggressively towards humans in self-defense or when their habitat is threatened.

Surprisingly, wild turkeys have very powerful legs and can chase at up to 25 miles per hour, in addition to being powerful fliers. One of the major differences between domestic turkeys and wild turkeys, is that although they are the same species, only wild turkeys have retained the ability to fly. Domestic turkeys are bred to be meaty and fat, and the additional weight prevents them from taking flight. Additionally, wild turkeys have excellent eye sight that is estimated to be three times better than human eyesight, and wild turkeys, though omnivores, are excellent hunters by land or air.

For the possibility of seeing wild turkeys in their native environment, take an airboat ride through the Florida Everglades this summer. Not only can you see many of the Everglades’ winged and feathered residents from an airboat tour, but you can see many of the fish, lizards, and amphibians that make their home here too.



A male and female mallard.

The term “mallard” has often been used to describe any duck that is found in the wild, but is actually an official term used to describe a specific species of duck, the Anas platyrhynchos. While mallards are a type of wild duck, this does not go to say that every duck that is found in the wild is a mallard. While not a native species to all, the mallard can now be found on every continent in the world except for Antartica, and is especially comfortable in the subtropical climate of South Florida. Most all domestic breeds of ducks in the world today are descendants of mallards, so it could be said almost every duck you encounter in the wild has at least a little bit of mallard blood in it.

Mallards are a medium-sized waterfowl species, averaging in lengths of around two feet and with wingspans of around three feet. Females are mostly mottled in various shades of brown and tan, leaving them virtually indistinguishable from other species of dabbling ducks. Male mallards, however, are quite a site to behold. Most notable for their glossy green heads, white collars, pale grey bellies, and black and white tipped tails, the males are arguably the “prettier” of the two genders. But while certain characteristics can be associated with both male and female mallards, the malleability of their genetic code allows for quite a range of variation in appearance between ducks of the mallard species.

What makes mallards unique from other waterfowl species, and from much of the Florida Everglades wildlife in general, is that while most species tend to suffer and decline in population from their interactions with humans, mallards have actually benefited. These ducks are highly adaptable to a variety of surroundings, including heavily populated areas and areas of urban development. In fact, in addition to being found throughout the Everglades, they are also quite common around ponds and lakes within housing communities and commercial centers.

But while it can be argued that mallards have benefited from their relationship with humans, it can also be said that humans have not benefited from their relationship with mallards, but most importantly, the species hurt the most by mallards are other types of ducks. Mallards are capable of breeding with nearly all other types of ducks, and are considered an invasive species or pest in many areas where they can be found, because of what is called “genetic pollution.” The idea behind this concept is that, because mallards hybridize with so many other species, it creates conservation concerns for specific species of duck that are already in danger. After enough hybridization, the original species will cease to exist, essentially causing the possible extinction of a variety of exotic and domestic duck species.

Though you likely have observed some form of mallard in the wild before, more than likely at the local park or perhaps even in your own backyard, mallards can still be appreciated while taking an airboat tour through the Florida Everglades. Florida swampland tours are not only a great opportunity to view the local winged wildlife, but you can also observe many of the local mammals, amphibians, and lizards too.

Why Do Birds Sing?

bird song

Some birds know as many as 2,000 distinct songs.

Chances are, at some point in your life, that you’ve woken up to the sound of a bird singing outside your window. Whether you are someone who tends to enjoy these melodies or someone who plugs your ears in annoyance at the interruption to your slumber, you may have found yourself wondering why birds sing at all. Despite your opinion that bird songs exist strictly to annoy you, they actually serve a very important purpose.

Birds sing in order to both proclaim their territory and show off to and attract potential mates. So while you may associate these songs with pretty, feminine birds, it is actually the males of the species that are in fact producing all that noise, though you may find male-female duets in a few rare species. Male birds put a lot of effort into their songs, after all, the future of their genetic lines depend on it!

Bird songs come in all shapes and sizes, and many of them would not even be considered songs at all to the human ear. Sometimes songs appear in the form of repetitive drum beats on wood, such as is the case with woodpeckers. At other times, a bird will flutter or flap its wings in order to create whirring or humming sounds, as is evident with some snipes. And in some cases, instead of producing any actual sounds or noises at all, birds will dance and produce colorful visual displays instead, almost as if they are moving along with music that no one else can hear but them.

The most noticeable songs though are certainly the ones that are the loudest and most repetitive. Some species of birds will spend up to 70% of their entire days singing, sometimes topping out at more than 20,000 songs in a single day, while some will only sing occasionally when females are present or when their territory is threatened. On the other hand, some species will sing over 2,000 different songs throughout the day, while others seem to only be aware of one. While the types, amounts, and variations of sounds and songs produced are so different between bird species, one thing is for sure: studies have found that the male birds who sing the most persistently tend to also be the ones within their communities that have the most food and attract the most females.

Because birds are so prevalent throughout the Everglades, some species may have to work extra hard in order to claim their territory and their females, but when it comes to birds and their singing, hard work really does pay off. To observe the unique birds of the Everglades first hand, take an airboat tour through the Everglades this summer. An Everglades airboat ride will leave you with a new appreciation for all the birds of the Everglades, and even for their many melodious songs as well.

Brown Pelican

brown pelican

A brown pelican in the water.

If you’ve ever been to the beach or out on a boat in Florida, than you have probably seen your fair share of brown pelicans. Most commonly found around coastlines of the Southern United States, this interesting bird is also quite common in the Everglades. While perhaps best known for annoying fishermen and boatmen, the brown pelican has become generally well tolerated and is now an American seaside staple.

Of the eight species of pelicans found throughout the world, the brown pelican is the smallest, and one of only two pelican species that gets its food by diving into the water. Although it is the smallest species of pelican, the brown pelican is by no means a small bird – they can reach over 5 feet in length, with wingspans of over 8 feet, large bills, and deep throat pouches for draining water after catching prey. While their heads are mostly white, the bodies of brown pelicans come in many shades of brown, black, tan, or gray, often mistakenly giving the impression that these birds are dirty or unclean, when in fact these are just their natural colors.

Brown pelicans can thrive in both saltwater and freshwater environments, and though you may spot a lone pelican hunting from time to time, they prefer to live in large flocks. Although they are usually seen around and associated with water, brown pelicans are excellent fliers, though they tend to be somewhat awkward on land. When feeding, an adult brown pelican will dive bill-first into the water, oftentimes submerging themselves completely before returning to the surface with their catch. After draining the water from their throat pouches, brown pelicans will then swallow their prey whole, eating up to 4 pounds of fish, amphibians, and crustaceans each day.

Because pelicans are often fed scraps from fishermen and boatmen, they have been conditioned to associate humans with their food. Today, they can be found all around fishing ports, piers, and marinas, though many can still be found in more secluded and wild areas, such as the mangrove forests of the Everglades. Protected under the Migratory Bird Act of 1918, brown pelicans are classified as a Species of Least Concern, with an estimated population of around 650,000 birds.

To see brown pelicans in their natural habitat, take an airboat ride with Captain Mitch through the Everglades. Not only will you see plenty of birds on your Everglades tour, but you’ll see plenty of lizards, fish, and amphibians too!

The Black Vulture is the Everglades’ Least Popular Bird

vulturesWhile the American black vulture is certainly not the most beautiful bird in the Everglades or the one with the best reputation, it might be one of the more interesting birds in not only the Everglades, but the entire world. Because the circling of vultures in the sky can often be a sign that something on the ground has just died and is about to be eaten, black vultures have often been associated with death. But while their feeding habits seem to give black vultures an ominous presence over humans, it is also their feeding habits that make them so unique.

The black vulture is a well known scavenger, and it has often been stated that a vulture will eat “anything.” Their main source of food is carrion, which is the dead and decaying flesh of animals. It’s no wonder these birds are easily spotted hovering above recent road kill, but they have also been known to make a meal out of the living – namely fresh eggs and newborn animal babies.

In areas populated by humans, the black vulture has been known to feed at garbage dumps, and, because they sometimes feed on livestock as well, this particular bird is not too popular among cattle herders and farmers. Whether or not this interesting bird is well-liked by the human population, it plays an extremely important role in the ecosystem of which it lives, as these birds dispose of carrion that would otherwise serve as a breeding ground for bacteria.

The black vulture gets its name from its deep black plumage, featherless grey-black head, and its short, hooked beak. While it is a relatively large bird with a wingspan of up to 5ft, it is actually considered small in comparison to other vulture species, which can get much larger. The black vulture has excellent eye sight and sense of smell, and, because they often find prey by following other vultures, they can often be seen in large groups. The American black vulture can be found in the Southeastern United States down to Central South America, and is protected in the United States under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

While vultures can be found in the populated areas surrounding the Everglades, they are best observed during an Everglades swamp tour. While humans can easily observe them feeding on trash or roadkill in their neighborhoods, airboat tours through the Everglades allow us to truly witness their natural behavior and feeding habits without human intervention.