Silent Hunter Of The Florida Everglades
The Florida Everglades and Big Cypress National Preserve
Bird Watching In Florida
Bird watching is one of the worlds oldest and greatest past times. The hours spent out doors, observing the natural world is one of the best ways I know to relax and enjoy nature. Bird watching in the Florida Everglades is especially entertaining. The vast water ways and marshland that make up the everglades are home to millions of birds and other species. Waders, fliers, hunters and foragers are all present and accounted for. One of the most spectacular groups of birds in the Florida Everglades is the raptors and birds of prey.
All of the birds of prey commonly found in the Florida Everglades are also found in other parts of the country. Some are even found on other continents. In fact, the most naturally widespread bird species is a bird of prey commonly found in the the Everglades.
What Are The Florida Everglades?
The Florida Everglades are a unique freshwater ecosystem in south Florida. The Everglades are a natural region of wetland starting with the Kissimee River and Lake Okeechobee in the north and ending at the the Florida Bay in the South. The Everglades is actually a vast, shallow and slow moving river over 60 miles wide that flows all the way to Florida Bay. In the dry season it is little more than a sea of grass with pockets of water here and there.
Fish Eagle or Osprey?
Osprey Are Unusual Birds
Osprey are large birds similar to eagles, in fact they are often called fish eagles, fish hawks and sea hawks. Osprey live high in the tops of trees, near water, where they build large nests to rear their young. Osprey live on every continent except Antarctica, wherever there is enough water to support a healthy fish population.
This raptor eats a diet soley of fish, swooping down out of the sky, feet first, attacking fish as they swim by. It can dive so hard that it will submerge its entire body. The osprey is the only raptor with two opposable toes, a feature that helps it grab fish as they try to swim away. The outer toe of each foot can articulate forward or backward.
Turkey Vultures Are Beautiful Birds
The American Black Vulture
Vultures Are Birds Of Prey
Vultures are not often thought of as birds of prey. Often called buzzards they are more well known as scavengers. These large, ungainly birds will also hunt for food as a supplement to eating what they find. They fly high in the sky, floating on warm air currents to conserve energy while they look for carrion or other sources of food. There are two kinds of vultures in the Florida Everglades.
- Turkey Vulture Turkey Vultures are the most common of the American vultures. American vultures are not related to the Old World varieties but are their own species. They are nearly identical to Old World species due to convergent evolution. The turkey vulture got its name because of its bald head which resembles the American turkey.
- Black Vulture Black vultures are an alien looking combination of that resembles part sea gull mixed with crow with too big clown feet. The stock bird has a range that takes it from the American southeast through Florida and the Everglades into South America. It is a large bird, though small compared to Eurasian vultures, and has a wingspan over 5 feet.
The Most Common Hawk In The Everglades
The Difference Between Hawks And Buzzards
This can be a difficult question to answer. Buzzards in the Old World (Europe) are a type of raptor that is commonly referred to in America as a hawk. The term is also used to describe any type of pest bird of prey, such as chicken hawks and sometimes vultures, which are not buzzards at all. For our purposes a buzzard and a hawk are the same thing. A hawk is a medium sized bird of prey in the genus bueto. Bueto is a large family of birds which are characterized by robust bodies and large wingspans. The Everglades is host to at least six different species of hawks and buzzards, not counting the vultures and other raptors who are sometimes referred to as buzzards.
- Sharp-Shinned Hawk is a small hawk with short wings and a long tail. It is very fast and quite acrobatic as it flies at top speeds through trees chasing its prey.
- Cooper's Hawk is a slightly larger version of the Sharp-Shinned Hawk. It can found cruising along the forest edge waiting for unsuspecting birds to fly by.
- Short-Tailed Hawk a large, dark hawk with a distinct short tail.
- Red-Tailed Hawk A common sight everywhere in the US, the Red Tailed Hawk can be seen circling high over fields or perched on a wire, waiting for prey or an updraft of warm air.
- Red-Shoulder Hawk love tall forests and wetlands, two terms that can be readily applied to the Everglades. These hawks have a barred rufous colored underside with darkly banded wings and tail.
- Broad-Winged Hawk is a smallish hawk inhabiting the deciduous forests of the Eastern US. The Florida Everglades marks the northern boundary of the winter range.
Swallowtail Kites Get Their Name From Their Deeply Forked Tails
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The Fierce Looking Snail Kite
Kite's Are Flying In The Florida Everglades!
Kites are another well represented group in the Florida Everglades. This raptor group has four members living in the Everglades today.
- Swallow-Tailed Kite live and breed from the southeastern United States all the way into Central America, Argentina and Peru. Most of the northern breeding kites will migrate south in the winter but the southern population remains in the south year round. The swallow-tailed kite is a medium-large bird with a deeply forked tails and white undersides fringed in black. Swallow-tailed kites love wetlands and forested areas near wetlands where they can build their nests and hunt for food.
- White-Tailed Kites are a smallish member of the genus Elanus. It is generally white all over with some dark grey coloring on the wings. The white tailed kite feeds primarily on rodents and can be seen gliding over open country and grassland. White-tailed kites are not as common as other kites in the Everglades but they are still found there.
- Mississippi Kites are another small bird of prey. The bird is a member of the family Acipitridae and typically weighs about a half pound. This bird is a light ashy grey all over with darker grey on the upper wings and flight feathers. Mississippi Kites feed primarily on insects which they catch in flight. They also catch small rodents and reptiles when available. Mississippi Kites are found all across the US in summer and migrate south in winter. They breed in colonies and both parents share in incubating the eggs.
- Snail Kite The snail kite is an endangered species in the Florida Everglades. The population is about 400 breeding pairs. The birds feed almost exclusively on snails, which they crack open with their sharp beaks. Snail Kites are often seen gliding along with their heads down as they look for their food. The snail kite is another member of the family Acipitridae which also includes eagles, hawks and the old world vultures. Males are a dark blue grey with darker patches on the wings. Females are more brownish with a whitish face and a streaked underside.
The Worlds Fastest Animal: Peregrine Falcons
One of North Americas Most Beautiful Birds
This Magician Can Snatch Prey Before Your Very Eyes
Falcons Of The Florida Everglades
Falcons are a group of small birds of prey who use speed to overpower their prey. The wide open spaces of the Florida Everglades makes speed and important factor when hunting for small birds, animals and flying insects. There are three species of falcons living in the Everglades with names more reminiscent of WWII fighter planes than birds.
- Peregrine Falcon is the fastest animal on the planet. The falcon can reach speeds in the range of 200 miles an hour as it completes its hunting stoop (dive). Peregrines feed on other birds, catching them in flight, and is also known as the duck hawk. The birds have a blue grey back with barred legs and chest. The beak is tipped with a black "mustache" and the head is very dark, nearly black. The peregrine falcon is the worlds most widespread bird, inhabiting areas from the arctic tundra to the tropics. It can be found in nearly every climate except for very high mountains and deep polar regions. Peregrines mate for life and lay their eggs on scrapes, rocky ledges or more recently on the ledges of tall sky scrapers.
- American Kestrels are not true "Old World" kestrels but a similar species found here in North America. They are a small to medium size bird of prey with a tawny back and grey head/tail. The back and upper parts of the bird are barred and there is a distinctive black stripe sweeping back from the eyes. Kestrels hunt by hovering over their intended prey and then diving in for the kill. American kestrels also do not build their own nests but use nest built by other birds.
- Merlin is a small species of hawk found across the US and parts of Eurasia. The birds live and breed in the Arctic region, migrating south in the winter. Merlins are typically bluish-grey on the back but there is considerable variation amongst the breeding populations. The undersides can range anywhere from a light brown to a golden orange and are heavily streaked with black and dark brown. Because of the variation between the different migratory and breeding populations there is much debate as to whether American and European merlins are the same species.
Golden Eagles In The Florida Everglades
Bald Eagle, Symbol Of Our Nation
Eagles Return To The Everglades
Eagles are large and wide ranging birds. Some species can be found on nearly every continent! The Golden Eagle is one of those. It is the national bird of five different countries including Germany and Mexico. There are two species of Eagles living in the Florida Everglades and Everglades National Park.
- Golden Eagle Golden Eagles are large, golden brown birds with an enormous wingspan reaching 6-7 feet wide. The golden eagle likes to feed on small animals like rabbits and squirrels but have been known to go after much larger prey like racoons, foxes and small deer.
- Bald Eagle Bald Eagles have a distinctive white head and dark brown bodies. The large bird, once endangered, is making a comeback across the continent. Bald Eagles feed primarily on fish, which they spot with their eagle eyes and snatch out of the water while flying as low as possible. Bald Eagles make one of the largest nests of any bird species, measuring about 8 feet wide and weighing over 1000 pounds.
Owls Are The Silent Hunters Of The Everglades
Owls are a commons sight, or a common sound, in the Everglades. Owls are notoriously hard to spot by day as they sleep high in trees or other safe spots. By night, when they are not swooping silently on their prey they are sitting in trees hooting to each other. The eerie sounds echo and carry across the waters of the everglades sparking the imagination of residents and visitors alike. There are two common species of owls living in the Everglades National Park.
- The Great Horned Owl is the second largest and most widespread owl of North America. The adaptable bird is a competent hunter and accomplished stalker. The plumage and coloration varies across the range but the size and shape of the Great Horned Owl make it unmistakable. Great Horned Owls have spectacular vision and hearing allowing them to pinpoint their prey in low light conditions and at night.
- The Barred Owl is known by several other names but the most common is Hoot Owl, because of its call. The barred owl is a mottled greyish brown with light colored underparts. Barred Owls prefer wooded areas but have been found to be highly successful in residential settings, provided there are enough trees for nesting. Their call is very distinctive and one of the most widely recognized. It can be best remembered by this phrase "who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all? "