Everglades Bird Profile: White-Crowned Pigeon

white-crowned pigeonWhen you think of a pigeon, you probably think of park benches and cities, but pigeons can be found in rural areas, as well. In fact, the white-crowned pigeon nests nowhere else in the United States except for south Florida.

They can be found in the mangrove forests in the Everglades and south Florida. They will nest in the mangroves but spend a lot of time in the wooded areas, as well.  They will lay one to three white eggs at time. Both the male and female will incubate the eggs. After hatching, the baby pigeons will leave the nest after 3 weeks. The parents both feed their young “pigeon milk.” Nesting usually occurs in July and August.

This pigeon’s body is a black/gray color with a white-capped head. They have iridescent green feathers on the back of their neck. They are around 13-14 inches in size. The oldest recorded white-crown pigeon was 14 years, 5 months old.

The pigeons are known to move more inland during the day to feed on fruit from the Poisonwood tree. They also eat strangler fig, pigeon plum, mastic, sea grape, seeds, insects, and other tropical fruits.

This pigeon can be easily spotted perching in trees. Unlike many “city” pigeons, they don’t spend much time on the ground. In the Everglades, they can be seen around Nine-Mile Pond, Snake Bight Trailhead, Eco Pond, and Bear Lake Road. Their population. There’s about 7,500 pairs of this pigeon living in Florida.

Along with Florida, this bird can also be found in the Caribbean and parts of Central America.

There is believed to be a global population of 550,000 of this bird. In 2014, they were on risk of becoming threatened or endangered. They are protected in Florida but are still hunted for food in the Caribbean. When mangrove forests are lost due to hurricanes, their habitat is compromised, which is a concern.

If you’re a bird watcher of just a fan of birds, the Everglades is the ideal place to see so many different species, including the white-crowned pigeon. Come explore the Everglades by airboat on a ride with Captain Mitch. Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours give you a fun and exciting glimpse of the Everglades. To book an airboat ride, click here or call 800-368-0065.

Everglades Species Profile: The Wood Duck

duckThere are numerous species of birds that can be found in the Everglades. At times in the winter, the sight of these birds can look like a scene out of the famous film, “The Birds.” Why? Well, birds migrate down to the Everglades for the winter so hundreds of birds are flying and gathering in the area. For this article, we wanted to focus on one bird so calls the Everglades its home: the wood duck.

The wood duck is a North American bird with very colorful features; it has blues, greens, purples mixed with white and black stripes and patches. Because of its coloring, it is known to be a popular birdwatching bird and its sought after by hunters.

In Florida, the wood duck is also known as the “summer duck” or “acorn duck.”  It was nearly extinct in the early 1900s, but its numbers were able to increase due the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act  in 9 1918 that restricted hunting of these birds. Because of this act, the wood ducks is now one of the most abundant waterfowl species on the continent.

Wood ducks have a large head, short neck, long square tail, and a long, slicked-back head crest. The males are more colorful than the females with a red bill and eyes whereas the females are mostly gray and brown with a white ring around their eyes.

Wood ducks’ habitat ranges from Quebec, Canada to south Florida. They migrate up north around March. This type of duck prefers to be around swamps and upland forests near freshwater, which is why the Everglades is an ideal location. They like to be surrounded by shrubs and plants so they have areas where they can find insects, seeds, and fruit.

Wood ducks nest in tree cavities, which keeps them out of harm’s way from foxes, opossums, raccoons, snakes, skunks, and other predators, including other ducks. After nesting, wood ducks molt all their feathers at once and cannot fly again until their new flight feathers emerge in 3 to 4 weeks.

Although the wood duck gets most of its food in shallow waters, it does obtain a lot of food by foraging on the ground in woody swamps and forests, unlike other ducks. Wood ducks eat seeds, fruits, parts of plants, small acorns, some insects, some snails and crawfish.

The wood ducks are one of the only duck species that nest in Florida. Pairing takes place in winter and egg-laying occurs between February and March.  They lay around 10 to 15 eggs.  After hatching, ducklings will leave the nest the next day. The mother wood duck will stay with her babies until they can fly (around 9 weeks). Due to predators, only 3-4 ducks will survive long enough to fly.

Maximum lifespan of a wood duck is 15 years, but the majority don’t live longer than 3 to 4 years old. To hunt a wood duck or any duck species in Florida, you must have a Florida hunting license and a free Florida Waterfowl permit. These can be obtained from county tax collectors and their subagents, such as hunting supply stores. There are hunting regulations on these ducks including season length and the number of killed ducks allowed per person per day.

If you’re a fan of ducks, you’ll want to visit the Everglades where you’ll see a ton of them! Come explore the Everglades by airboat on a ride with Captain Mitch. Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours give you a glimpse of the Everglades and a possible glimpse of some wood ducks like no other. To book an airboat ride, click here or call 800-368-0065.


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.

Everglades Bird Spotlight: Laughing Gull

laughing gullDo you know what the most common gull in the Everglades is? The laughing gull! These gulls are medium in size with long wings and legs. They are a coastal warm-weather species, which is why they can be found hanging around the Everglades year round. Below, we wanted to share some fun facts about this bird.

  • They can even be found inland around plowed fields, rivers, garbage dumps, and parking lots.
  • As their name reveals, this species of gull is very vocal; their call is loud with a series of “laughing” notes that last at least three seconds long. When threatened, laughing gulls make a short alarm call, but this can get more intense and last a long time if they are defending a nest.
  • When in the Everglades, on the shoreline or a beach, you can identify this gull by its black hood and red bills. Their back and wings are also a bit darker than other similar-sized gulls. They stand in groups.
  • Laughing gulls eat a variety of different species including crustaceans, worms, insects, snails, crabs, fish, squid, berries, offal, and human food found on the beaches.
  • When mating, both the male and female laughing gull build the nest. Often, the male will start to build the nest in hope of attracting a female.
  • Their nests can be found on sand, rocks, or hidden in plants or dead plants.
  • They remove the egg shells from the nest after each bird hatches; the shells can potentially get lodged on top of another egg and cause the bird not to hatch.
  • In the late 19th century, this bird was overhunted for its eggs and plumes (hate trade). But since 1966, the population has increased.

Want to see and hear these birds? Take a trip on an airboat ride that can bring you all around where these birds live. Call Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours today to have an experience of a lifetime. Click here or call 800-368-0065 to schedule your tour through an American gem.

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.

Everglades white pelicans: Florida’s seasonal residents

American White Pelicans Flying Low Over The MarshWhite pelicans are giant, majestic birds that travel and congregate in groups as large as 50. These elegant beasts fly flawlessly despite their weight and wingspan. The average adult white pelican weighs anywhere from 12 to 30 pounds, and its wingspan extends roughly nine feet. Its impressive wingspan is second only to the California condor, which boasts the largest wingspan in North America.

But due to their transient nature, white pelicans only grace Florida with their presence during the winter months. And they truly are a sight to behold. The large birds are completely white except for their black-tipped wings, which are only visible in flight. Unlike their relatives, white pelicans fish by floating through the water and occasionally dipping their heads underneath as opposed to diving.

And did you know white pelicans look different in the Everglades than they do up north? During a white pelican’s stay in the Everglades, its bill develops horns. This adaptation protects gular pouches during territorial fights that occur at northern breeding sites. Once the birds lay their eggs, the horns fall off.

Do you want to spot Everglades white pelicans?

More elusive than their brown pelican cousins, white pelicans seek solace in the uninhabited areas of the Everglades. They frequently gather in the small, marshy islands sprinkled about Florida Bay. The best time to see them is during low tide, where they’ll rest on mudflats. Another popular place for white pelican sightings sits at the end of the Snake Bight Trail in Everglades National Park. Other Everglades white pelican sightings have occurred at the Flamingo Visitor Center of ENP and 10,000 Islands near Everglades City.

To see the most Everglades wildlife, schedule an airboat tour

Airboat rides provide the best way to see an abundance of Everglades plant and wildlife. From alligators to white pelicans, Everglades airboat tours are bound to amaze you. To schedule your Everglades adventure, contact Captain Mitch’s Everglades Airboat Tours at 239-695-3377.

Pink Flamingos Return to the Everglades

pink flamingo stretched neckRecently American flamingos made a comeback to South Florida. While the wading bird no longer breeds in the Sunshine State, a population of flamingos returned to the Everglades after over a hundred years of no-shows. Last year, ornithologists counted an astounding 147 flamingos in just one area of the Everglades. They spotted the birds at Stormwater Treatment Area 2 (STA2) in Central Florida.

Back in the 19th century, hundreds of thousands of flamingos could be seen in parts of Southern Florida. But European settlers drove them away through excessive feather and egg collecting. Now, it appears, flamingos are returning to Florida from the Yucatan – or from zoos. It’s difficult to identify whether these birds are wild or captivity escapees, but researchers are attempting to tag the flamingos with satellite transmitters to learn more about their travel patterns.

While we don’t know exactly why flamingos returned to Florida or where they came from, we do know a lot about their habits. The tall, light-weight birds travel in large flocks and display unique social characteristics. For instance, the birds often mate for life. Even more amazingly, flamingos court one another in flocks. That’s right: an entire tribe of flamingos synchronizes its mating march. Often, each bird engages in “head flagging,” waving its head from side to side. Witnessing such a show can be just as comical as it is impressive.

In a flamingo family, the male and female share child rearing responsibilities. Both parties fashion a nest, incubate the egg and protect it from harm. Once hatched, adult flamingos feed their chicks “crop milk,” which is produced from the throats of both male and female birds. Chicks are born white or gray with straight beaks, and it takes one to two years for them to develop traditional flamingo characteristics like pink feathers and a curved beak.

Why are flamingos pink?

You may wonder why flamingos aren’t born with pink feathers. Well, their vibrant color is entirely attributed to their beta-Carotene diet, which contains a red-orange pigment. Because chicks don’t immediately dine on the crustaceans and plankton adult flamingos do, it takes them a couple years to glow pink. Without these beta-Carotene-rich meals, an adult flamingo’s feathers will turn white.

Why do flamingos stand on one leg?

While it’s not widely known why flamingos stand on one leg, some believe they do so to conserve body heat while resting. Another theory claims the pink birds simply take a one-legged stance for comfort. We hope it’s comfortable since flamingos will stand like this for hours at a time – quite the balancing act!

See flamingos in the Everglades

Flamingos often congregate on mudflats throughout the Everglades. The best way to spot one is by taking an airboat tour, which will expose you to a vast array of Everglades wilderness. To schedule your chance to see a flamingo, click here or contact Captain Mitch’s Everglades Airboat Tours at 239-695-3377.