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.

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.

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!


osprey-flyingThe osprey goes by many names – fish hawk, sea hawk, fish eagle, and river hawk – but all names seem to call out one particular characteristic of this powerful hunting bird, the fact that its diet is comprised almost entirely of fish. While this is certainly not the only unique characteristic of the osprey, it is currently the most well known.

The osprey is comfortable in many habitats, and can be found throughout the world and on every continent with the exception of Antarctica. It is one of only a few species of birds that can be found worldwide, making this truly a unique and spectacular creature. It is considered a diurnal raptor, though due to its unique hunting and catching behavior, the species has been given its own taxonomic genus.

Ospreys greatly resemble various species of hawks, a fact that is evident as del in many of its chosen nicknames. Ospreys can reach heights of around two feet, with wingspans that can reach six feet, making these truly majestic birds to be both feared and respected by their prey. Ospreys are easily distinguished from hawks by their unique wing patterns, which are long, narrow, and featuring four long and one short finger-like feathers, giving them a very distinct appearance of almost having hands on their wings. When in flight, these “hands” tend to droop heavily, giving the ospreys a more gull-like than hawk-like appearance in the air.

While the osprey almost exclusively feeds on fish, they have been known to eat small rodents, amphibians, reptiles, and even other small birds as well. Because the osprey has excellent fine-tuned vision, they are able to detect their underwater prey from high above in the air. AFter hovering momentarily, the osprey plunges into the depths below to efficiently catch its lunch or dinner.

Although most osprey migrate to warmer climates during cold winter seasons, because the climate in Southern Florida is hospitable year-round, many osprey who make this area home choose to stay here throughout the year. Currently, osprey populations continue to thrive worldwide, and although populations were in danger at the beginning on the 20th century due to hunting by egg collectors, today this bird is both common and comfortable with its numbers and current habitats.

To enjoy osprey in the wild, take an airboat tour through the Florida Everglades, a national park that houses a very large population of osprey year-round. Airboat rides are fun, fast, and thrilling for the whole family, and the perfect opportunity to experience all of the amazing Florida wildlife that calls this area home.

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.