We chose the National Parks recommendation of the Mangroves Boat Tour and stepped into the quiet motor boat which seated six very comfortably. Captain David is experienced with boating and knows so much about the flora and fauna of the Everglades. This Northern part of the Everglades National Park is at the Bird Rookery and is a perfect place for ornithologist and birding tours. This area is home or host to over 350 species, so you can spot many and observe their habits, especially on sunny days. Ours was a mild, cloudy December day but we learned a lot about birds in our 90 minute boat tour through the open waters of Turner River into the protected waterways beneath tunnel formed by the millions of mangrove trees and their eerie roots
David told us the habits of each of the birds we spotted along the way, slowing or stopping for us to look closely at the markings on the feathers, and noting shape and color of beak and legs. We learned the following:
- The Rosette Spoonbill’s lovely pink color is from eating shrimp. It is the only spoonbill species in the USA. It wades in shallow waters searching for shrimp.
- The Great Blue Heron is the largest predator of alligator babies.
- White Ibis are known as the “hurricane bird” because it is the last to leave before a hurricane and the first to return. They are easily distinguished from white egrets because ibis have long, curved, yellow beaks. Since white is a perfect target for predators, Nature gave fledglings gray-brown feathers for about 18 months. By this time they turn white since they have learned how to protect themselves.
- Cormorants are large black birds with a huge wing spans and dense bones to help them dive straight down into the water many feet deep to catch fish in their powerful beaks. We saw some also sitting with open wings on the dock in order to get dry, since they do not have the body oils of other sea birds and these cannot fly as fast with wet wings.
- The Anhinga looks like a Cormorant but has a long, thinner, sharper beak with which it spears its fish.
- The Royal Tern, proudly claiming a post in the water, is nature’s weathervane because he always faces into the wind. It is easy to identify from other terns by its black band on the white head and its orange-yellow beak. When sailors cannot determine correct wind direction, they look for this brave bird.
- By contrast to the White Ibis, young Brown Pelicans are white for about 18 months.
- Tri-colored Herons sit patiently in trees awaiting crabs, their favorite feast.
- Turkey Vultures have a keen sense of smell and soar high above, circling the carrion to eat. They follow the Black Vultures to get their food.
- Crows work together to open trash cans and food packs and search hungrily for treats. These are smart birds, known as the Trickster to Native Americans. In Japan Crows have learned to lay walnuts in the path of traffic to get them cracked!
- Did fishermen learn the secrets of Green Herons, which use bait at the water’s edge and swish it to attract fish?
- White Egrets have gold feet which attract fish in the water. Their beaks are black.
- On the 10,000 Islands Tour during a heavy rain the next day we discovered Great White Pelicans in a large flock. They huddled together with heads tucked on the spate of land farthest out at the edge of the open Gulf of Mexico. Their beaks can hold three gallons of water! That weighs 24 pounds!
- At the National Park Visitor Center we enjoyed a nature walk with a park ranger and then Andrew, another Ranger had an excellent Bird Smart Talk. Birds get their food in a variety of ways specific to each species, so they don’t compete for their food but often help each other. Herons and egrets are sight feeders and wait patiently to stab their fish. Ibis are deep mud fishers. Rosette Spoonbills are tactile fishers who feel the fish with their feet as they wade in the shallows. Great Brown Pelicans have sharp eyesight and dive from 50 or 60 feet to get fish they spot from above. Their special head structure with air sacs to cushion the blow helps prevent these dive-bombers from injury.
White pelicans work as a group and push their fish to the shallows. These birds have a nine-foot wing-span. Pelican pouches can hold three gallons of water. He told us about several species that are not here, including the Clark’s Nutcracker, which collects and buries pine needles in warm weather and remembers in winter where hundreds of these are buried to eat. Of course, birds can fly to where food is plentiful. The Arctic Tern has the longest of all migrations, flying around the world twice in a year.
NOTE: Photos from website Free Stock Photos