Everglades Bird Spotlight: the Limpkin

everglades airboat tourAt certain times of the year, the Everglades can look like a scene out of Alfred Hitchock’s The Birds. Thousands of birds flock down to this warm climate to spend the winter and breed. For this article, we wanted to spotlight one species of bird that can be found in the Everglades: the Limpkin. This bird can actually be found in the Everglades year-round.

Limpkins are notoriously known to be noisy. In fact, you may have a better chance of hearing a limpkin than seeing one. Limpkins begin to make sounds at dusk and continue all through the night until dawn. Their cries aren’t sweet, usually they are loud screams, which are unmistakable.

This bird is related to rails and cranes. It’s a brown bird with white spots and streaks along its body. They have long necks, legs, and bills. Their long bills help them easily remove apple snails from their shells; apple snails are the main food source of the limpkin. Their bills, when closed, have a gap at the end that acts like tweezers. You can usually find the limpkin around areas where apple snails are abundant, but if apple snails are not easily found, the limpkin will eat other types of snails, freshwater mussels, insects, frogs, crustaceans, lizards, and worms.

You can find limpkins mainly around shallow bodies of water; they are a slow-moving bird with a high-stepping gait. The “limp” in limpkin comes from this gait that often gives off the appearance that the bird is limping even though it is not.

Limpkins stick with their own kind and do not mix in with other wading birds.

While nesting in the Everglades or other parts of Florida, they build their nests on top of floating vegetation, as well as high tree limbs. They can lay 3 to 8 eggs at a time. Florida is actually as far north as this bird goes. Limpkins can be found throughout the Caribbean, Central America, and South America.

Limpkins range from 25-28 inches in height with a wingspan of 39 to 42 inches in width.

Limpkins are not endangered or under watch, but at one point, their numbers were dwindling in Florida due to human development.

Want to have the chance to see (but most likely hear) this bird up close? Come out on an airboat tour to glide around the limpkin’s habitat. Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours are a great way to explore all the ins and outs of this wetland. To book an airboat tour, click here or call 800-368-0065.

All About the Roseate Spoonbill

roseate spoonbillDuring the winter season, Florida can look like a scene out of Jurassic Park. The sheer scale and variety of birds flocking down here is a sight to be seen. Hundreds of birds of varying species stand side by side bodies of water and make the area their home for the winter/nesting season. One bird that can be spotted in southern Florida is the roseate spoonbill, and it happens to be a threatened species.

The roseate spoonbill is the only spoonbill native to the Western Hemisphere. They are white and brightly pink colored (like a flamingo) do to the carotenoid pigment canthaxanthin in their diets. Depending on their age, roseate spoonbills can be a pale pink or a deep, bright magenta in color. They have a gray spoon-shaped bill, white neck, back, and breast. They are 28-34 inches in size with a wingspan up to 52 inches.

To catch its prey, the spoonbill swinging its spoon-shaped bill back and forth in shallow waters.  They eat crayfish, shrimp, crabs, frogs, newts, and small fish. They often travel and feed in groups. Its bill allows it to sift through mud to find food sources, as well.

They are considered to be a social bird who lives in a large colony with other birds like herons, storks, and egrets. They fly in flocks in a long, diagonal line.

When breeding, they will next in mangrove or trees, but they usually stay by the coast. Female spoonbills build the nest while the male provides the materials for the females to build. They can lay up to 3 eggs at a time.

In the mid-1800s, the roseate spoonbill was hunted for its feathers; they were used to make women’s hats and fans, but this practice is now illegal; the population has begun to grow since this regulation was put in place. In the early 20th century, there was only a few dozen pairs left. They were made a protected species in the 1940s. This bird is also threatened by habitat loss, pesticides, illegal shootings, and lower food sources. To protect this bird, it was named under the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act to be protected and it is recognized as a state-designed threatened species.

In 2006, a tagged roseate spoonbill was seen; it was 16 years old, which made it the oldest wildest known spoonbill of its kind.

Want to catch a glimpse of the roseate spoonbill in the Everglades, along with many other birds? To get a great views of the skies and bodies of water (where birds will be) in the Everglades, you should opt for an airboat tour. An airboat ride can bring you to places in the Everglades not accessible by foot. To book a trip, contact Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours at 800-368-0065 or click here

Bird Watching in the Everglades

Bird watching is a relaxing, slow-paced, way to enjoy nature and animals. There is something very exciting and rewarding about picking out that bird in the sky and being able to find out what it is from a birding book or website. It’s a bit like ecological detective work.

Bird watching is a popular past time for people across a wide range of ages and interests. Everglades National Park is a great place to bird watch in southern Florida, giving you the opportunity to see some 350 species of bird that call the Everglades home.

Birding takes a variety of forms and Everglades National Park boasts three main types of bird groups depending on which you prefer to view. These groups include: wading birds, land birds, and birds of prey.

Wading birds are the most prevalent in the Everglades, followed by land birds, and finally the elusive birds of prey.  There are a variety of rare and beautiful birds that can be seen in the Everglades, such as the roseate spoonbill, Green-backed Heron, Great Blue Heron, wood stork, white ibis, and more. These wading birds can be found in a variety of places within the mangroves and estuaries.

Land birds are the next most common category of birds found in the Everglades and these come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. There are tons of different types of sparrows, jays, buntings, wrens, cardinals, and more. These birds tend to be most heavily located in the wooded and piny areas of the park.

The most common birds of prey in the Everglades belong to the falcon family. A variety of different breeds of falcon, eagle, osprey, and even kites make their home in the Everglades. These birds are found throughout the varied sub-biomes of the Everglades, often seen soaring about the tree tops looking for food. Seeing these creatures in their natural landscape is a honor and an experience of a lifetime for a bird lover.

For the avid bird watcher, the Everglades is a rich and variety ecosystem that boasts a ton of different bird species. The most commonly seen types of birds include wading birds, land birds, and birds of prey. These birds make their home in the varied environments of the Everglades. Birding-oriented tours will take visitors to the locations where they are most likely to catch a peek at one of these amazing creatures. With patience and diligence, you can enjoy the varied aviary life the Everglades has on offer.

Come check out some birds on an airboat ride with Captain Mitch. Click here or call 800-368-0065 to book an airboat tour in the Everglades today.

Water Quality in the Everglades

evergladesLately, it seems like most news to come out about the Everglades isn’t too positive. Thankfully however, there was some good news to come out last month. Water quality is being restored in the Everglades. Over the past two decades, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) have had the goal of restoring water quality. Recent tests have shown that at least 90 percent of the Everglades now meets an “ultra clean” water quality when it comes to levels of phosphorus (10 parts per billion or less required by federal consent decree and under state law). Right now, 100 percent of the Everglades is below 8 parts per billion; 86 percent of the Everglades is at 8 parts per billion.

Progress IS being made in the Everglades. Before the Everglades Forever Act of 1994, the water in the Everglades area contained around 173 parts per billion of phosphorus. In the past five years, phosphorus levels in the water were around 20 parts per billion, and this was after they were filter through Stormwater Treatment Areas (STAs).

The few areas left are close to reaching very clean levels. Soon, the water quality of the entire ecosystem of the Everglades will be in compliance soon. The water restoration is part of Governor Rick Scott’s $880 million Restoration Strategies program.

Explore the Everglades on an Airboat

The Everglades is a remarkable, beautiful wetland and officials and community members are working hard at restoring so it doesn’t disappear. Since it’s a Park, there are many ways for visitors to explore the area. One of the best ways to take in all the Everglades has to offer is an airboat tour. Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours has been operating in the Everglades for more than 30 years. To book a tour with Captain Mitch, click here or call 800-368-0065.

The Everglades Snail Kite

snail kite The Snail Kite (formerly known as the Everglades Snail Kite) was listed as endangered in 1967. Fast forward 49 years, this bird is still on the federal endangered species list and state regulators are being accused of not protecting the species properly. In 2000, there were 3,400 kites around and by 2008 there were only 700.

The snail kite is known for its slender, curved bill. This bill is able to extract the apple snail from its shell for the bird to eat. The snail kite is a medium-sized brown/gray raptor that flies slow with its head tilted down often while it looks for prey. They use their feet to capture the snails that are right below the surface of the water.

This raptor lives along freshwater marshes and manmade lakes. They prefer non-dense vegetation areas, because the openness allows them to easily search for the apple snails. Snail kites are considered nomadic in Florida because they move depending on water depths, food availability, hydroperiod, and other changes in the habitat.

The biggest threat to the snail kite is the loss of the wetlands in Florida. When sewage is disposed through septic tanks and runs off into the water and land, the water quality lowers and exotic and invasive plants grow heavily and reduce visibility of the apple snails in the water. In order to keep the snail kite around, the area’s water stages in lakes in canals to be regulated to certain vegetation is there for the bird’s habitat to exist.

In February, a federal official accused state regulators of not properly protecting the snail kite. In January, heavy rainfall occurred in Florida and was overfilling Lake Okeechobee; the U.S. Army Corps released lots of water from the lake which flowed into estuaries. This flowing of water changed the water level in many areas of the state too quickly, which in turn disrupted the nesting sites of the snail kite. If their nests get swept away from the higher levels of water, they are unable to reproduce. This destruction was caused by an act (the dumping of the water) which was illegally done, because no permit was obtained for this flood control act.

Despite the snail kite’s habitat being completely fragile and vulnerable, numbers have been slowly increase in recent years.

Spot the Snail Kite

This majestic creature has been in trouble for decades but continues to hold on. The snail kite’s specific diet of mainly apple snails makes it hard for the bird to thrive in different areas, since it’s dependent on a watershed with a certain water quality and vegetation.  Although this bird is still around, there’s always the chance it could disappear in the years to come. Book an airboat tour today through the snail kite’s habitat within the Everglades to try and catch a glimpse of this precious, endangered bird. To book a tour, contact Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours at 239-695-3377 or click here.

The Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow

Cape Sable seaside sparrowThis winter has not been good for many birds in the Everglades, including the Cape Sable seaside sparrow. Its habitat has been threatened by substantial rain and water that was drained from Lake Okeechobee. For the sparrow’s nesting area, water levels were too high. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Everglades Program knew what would happen once the water was released, but they never anticipated it being as bad as it turned out. Now, officials and biologists are concerned about this bird and its future.

Maintaining an ideal water level for this bird, and many other birds, is no easy task. Between April and July, the sparrow builds its nests a mere six inches off the ground, so it needs a water level high enough to keep it away from predators and low enough so the nest doesn’t wash away. It is believed more water could be moved into the Everglades if it wasn’t for the sparrow. This bird is actually nicknamed the “Goldilocks bird” because its habitat conditions have to be “just right” for it to survive. In 1981, there were an estimated 6,656 Cape Sable seaside sparrows in the Everglades, but by 2002 there were only around 2,624 of the birds around.

The sparrow lives in six different locations of the Everglades, usually rocky grass prairies with muhly grass; the Everglades is the only ecosystem the bird exists in.  In these short-hyrdoperiod prairies, there is somewhat dense, clumped grasses with open space for the sparrows to move around. The sparrows’ nests are cup-shaped, and the bird itself is only 5 inches long. The sparrow is a dark olive gray in color with a brown back and light gray with dark olive color lines on the sides; there are small patches of yellow feathers around the eyes and the bend of the wings. These birds feed on grasshoppers, caterpillars, beetles, spiders, and seeds from the grass. They are known to have short-range movements and do travel far away from their nesting areas outside of the breeding season. A sparrow usually only lives to the age of four.

According to the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, the condition of the sparrow is so dire and they’re trying to do anything they can to save them, even if this means giving one pair of sparrows the opportunity to breed. They believe this year will be the worst breed year they’ve seen for the sparrow in decades.

Spot the Sparrow

The Capble Sable seaside sparrow is disappearing. A change in a mere couple of centimeters of water in the sparrow’s habitat can determine whether or not the birds can or will breed. Scientists and officals are continuing to work on plans that will protect the bird and its environment without causing too many problems elsewhere. If you’d like an opportunity to see a sparrow fly by, an airboat tour may be your only chance. Airboats can bring you all around the Everglades to places you cannot get to by foot. To explore the Everglades, contact Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours here.

Paurotis Pond

paurotis pondThe Everglades needs water to survive; it’s a water-based ecosystem made up of sawgrass marshes, waterways, prairies, forested uplands, and ponds, including Paurotis Pond. One reason the area needs water so badly is because it’s home to an abundance of plants, animals, and marine life. Not only does water give the plants and animals sustenance, it gives them a home.

One of these “homes” is Paurotis Pond. The pond is a well-known nesting site of a variety of birds. The pond is situated 24 miles from the main Everglades park entrance in Homestead, Fl. The pond gets its name from the Paurotis Palms, a plant with green fan-shapes leaves that is native to the Everglades.

The National Park Service’s mission is to protect and preserve the landscape of the Everglades, so each year, the park

Every year, the Park closes the Pond area to protect nesting birds, including the Wood Storks, from any human disturbances. For instance, in January 2015, the Park closed Paurotis Pond for the Roseate Spoonbills’ nesting season. Pond closures vary in dates and times every year. The closures are dependent on birds’ behaviors.  The Wood Stork was once an endangered species, but thanks to the efforts of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the species’ status was downgraded to “threatened.” This success is attributed to nearly 30 years of conversation and preservation efforts. In the last few years, Paurotis Pond has been a nesting site for about 400 pairs of Wood Storks.

Bird species that nest at Paurotis Pond, include: Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbills, Snowy Egrets, Tri-colored Herons, Black-Crowned Night Herons, Anhinga, and Little Blue Herons.

Just like people who flock to Florida for the winter, these birds fly down to Paurotis Pond during the dry season to prepare their nest-building sites. The birds form nesting colonies comprised of hundreds to thousands of birds. In this season, birds gather around permanent bodies of water, like Paurotis Pond, which makes bird-watching easy. The best birding season in the Everglades is from December to March. January and February are the best months to check out the birds at Paurotis Pond, if it has not been closed off for nesting. However, bird watching from the Pond’s parking area usually remains open. Not only is the pond a popular bird-watching site, but visitors can access the area to fish and canoe, as well.

Explore the Everglades

The Everglades is full of beautiful birds and waters for your viewing pleasure. Since it’s the winter season, now is the best time to catch birds nesting in the area’s waters. To make the most of your Everglades visit, take an airboat ride with Captain Mitch’s Everglades Airboat Tours. To schedule your ride, call Captain Mitch’s at 239-695-3377.

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!