FAU Biosphere Project: Birds

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Burrowing Owl Lilybeth Moreno Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia)

FAU's mascot likes to burrow in open fields on the Boca Raton campus. The diminutive owl, one of the smallest in Florida, prefers treeless habitats where it can easily keep an eye out for predators. They feed primarily on insects, but will also eat small snakes, lizards, and rodents.

Burrowing owls face many threats in Florida, including habitat loss and predation by domestic animals. They are classified as Threatened by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.  Read more.

 

 

Photo credit: Lilybeth Moreno

 

Red-winged Blackbird MJ PennellRed-Winged Blackbird (Ardea Alba)

These bold little birds can be found singing their alarm-like song in grasslands and wetlands across most of North and Central America. They are omnivores, eating insects and other small animals as well as seeds. They prefer to breed in freshwater wetlands, building their nests in standing vegetation in loose groups. During the nesting season, the plain females build nests and lay eggs while the males sing and chase intruders, showing off the flashy red epaulets for which the species is named. Multiple females may mate with a male and choose to nest in his territory, though they will sometimes mate outside of this arrangement as well. Loud, territorial, and hungry, these birds are sometimes seen as agricultural pests, and efforts to reduce their population have also affected other species of bird. Red-winged blackbirds remain abundant, though their population is likely to decline due to habitat loss and climate change, as are those of many other birds.

Photo credit: MJ Pennell

 

 

Anhinga MJ PennellAnhinga (Anhinga anhinga)

Anhingas are a common sight near shallow waters in Florida, perched on low branches with their strikingly-patterned wings spread out to dry or swimming with only their long, thin necks protruding from the water. These swimming birds hunt a variety of fish, killing their prey with quick stabs of their sharp bills. They can also be found scattered throughout mixed colonies of other birds such as cormorants, storks, and egrets during the nesting season.

 

Photo credit: MJ Pennell

 

 

Great Egret MJ PennellGreat Egret (Ardea Alba)

Great egrets are large wading birds capable of reaching more than three feet in height. They mostly forage in shallow water, waiting for fish to approach before snapping them up with quick thrusts of their sharp bills. They tend to forage and nest close to other species of wetland birds. The egret pictured here is carrying a stick to use in the construction of its nest, which will be a hardy platform situated in the trees above the water, surrounded by the nests of other birds in the mixed colony at the Wakodahatchee wetlands in Palm Beach County.

 

Photo credit: MJ Pennell

 

 

Green Heron MJ PennellGreen Heron (Butorides virescens)

Green Heron are a small species of heron often found hunched within the aquatic vegetation of Florida wetlands. Their hunting strategy involves sitting still and waiting for prey, such as small fish or amphibians, to come along. Sometimes they will drop bait, such as insects or leaves, into the water to lure prey, making them one of only a few species of bird observed using tools. Green Herons are not currently considered an at-risk species, but, like many wetland birds, their numbers are threatened by habitat loss.

 

Photo credit: MJ Pennell

 

 

Black-bellied Whistling Duck MJ PennellBlack-bellied Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis)

Black-bellied whistling ducks, named for their distinctive squeaky whistle, are friendly, social waterbirds found in shallow freshwater bodies of South America and southern North America. They feed mostly on seeds and grains, but may also eat small invertebrates. These ducks typically build their nests in hollow cavities in trees close to water. Ducklings jump to the ground a few days after hatching.

 

 

Photo credit: MJ Pennell

 

 

Black-bellied Whistling Duck MJ PennellLittle Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea)

These wary, methodical herons hunt in shallow fresh waters or in fields, stalking and waiting for prey. They may nest in multispecies colonies and most often tend to associate with cattle egrets. Their diets are versatile, including fish, amphibians, reptiles, crustaceans, and insects. Though their short, dark feathers meant that their population was not as impacted by plume hunters in the 19th century as those of other herons, but they have seen a significant decline in recent years due to habitat loss and water pollution.

 

Photo credit: MJ Pennell

 

 

Tricolored Heron MJ PennellTricolored Heron (Egretta tricolor)

Tricolored herons are found along the southern coasts of North America and across Central America in wetlands or near shores. They hunt in quiet, shallow waters, mostly by standing still and waiting for fish or other small animals to approach. They are solitary hunters and may even chase other herons away from their hunting areas, though they congregate in colonies blended with other wading birds during the nesting season.

 

 

Photo credit: MJ Pennell

 

 

White Ibis MJ PennellWhite Ibis (Eudocimus albus)

White ibis are a staple of the Florida outdoors, seen flying and foraging in flocks throughout wetland and suburban environments. Their primary source of food is small aquatic creatures, which they hunt in shallow, standing water. These birds tend to forage in groups, and during their nesting season will establish large colonies, often blended with the nests of other species of bird.

 

 

 

Photo credit: MJ Pennell

 

 

Common Gallinule MJ PennellCommon Gallinule (Gallinula galeata)

You’re likely to hear the loud, squeaking calls of the gallinule upon approaching any lake or wetland in Florida. These birds find food by swimming or foraging around aquatic vegetation. They live year-round in the warm, vegetated waters of the southern United States and across wide swaths of Central and South America, though some travel further North and return to breed. Keep an eye out for their fuzzy, bald chicks, like the one pictured here, during nesting season. Both males and females collaborate to build their nests, incubate their eggs, and feed their young; sexual dimorphism is low, and both males and females sport the same bright red facial shield.

 

Photo credit: MJ Pennell

 

 

Wood Stork MJ PennellWood Stork (Mycteria americana)

Wood storks are tall, bald wading birds found in the tropical and subtropical areas of the Americas. They stand at roughly three feet tall and have wingspans of roughly five feet. They find food by sifting through the muck of shallow water with their bills, which snap shut lighting-fast as soon as they sense prey. In fact, their 25-millisecond snaps are among the fastest found in all vertebrates. These storks breed and nest in dense colonies in wetland trees. Courtship for these seasonally-monogamous pairs involves preening and beak-clacking, and can appear quite romantic, even if the dozens of nests packed closely together conjure up a rather strong smell. Hundreds of these storks can be observed nesting in the Wakodahatchee wetlands of Delray Beach, where over a period weeks one can watch up close as the next generation of storks progresses from eggs to fluffy, muppet-like adolescents. Wood storks are considered threatened in the United States, largely due to habitat loss, changes in water levels due to human development, and human interference. This is an improvement from their previous endangered status, though the stork’s population still faces many threats.

Photo credit: MJ Pennell

 

 

Double-Crested Cormorant MJ PennellDouble-Crested Cormorant (Nannopterum auritum)

The double-crested cormorant is an adaptable waterbird common in North America, living on the coasts or near bodies of freshwater. They can often be seen sitting on the shore with their patterned wings outstretched to dry. Diving is their primary method of hunting; they swim low on the surface of the water, long necks extended, then propel themselves down to catch fish or other small aquatic beasts. These dives may reach depths of up to 25 feet. Their population has historically suffered due to chemical pollution - specifically DDT - and human aggression at their colonies due to competition over fish. However, after the ban of DDT in 1972, the population has seen a significant resurgence.

 

Photo credit: MJ Pennell

 

 

Roseate Spoonbill MJ PennellRoseate Spoonbill(Platalea ajaja)

The origins of this wading bird’s common name are obvious in its rosy color and distinctive bill. Foraging in shallow waters both salty and fresh throughout South America and along the very southern edges of North America, roseate spoonbills can generally be found in loose groups with each other or with other species of wading bird. Their diet consists largely of small fish, crustaceans, amphibians, mollusks, and insects, which they feel and sift up out of the muck with their flat bills. Like flamingoes, roseate spoonbills get their pinkness from the crustaceans they eat. Their population in the United States was once drastically reduced by demand for their feathers and habitat loss, but has with effort managed to bounce back. However, they, like many other species of wetland bird, remain vulnerable to habitat loss and other forms of environmental destruction.

 

Photo credit: MJ Pennell

 

 

Yellow-rumped Warbler MJ PennellYellow-Rumped Warbler - Myrtle form(Setophaga coronata)

These dainty little birds breed and nest far up north in coniferous areas of Canada and the northeastern United States, but migrate down to Florida, Central America, and the Carribean for the winter. Bugs have a hard time escaping these versatile insectivores, who hunt them in a variety of ways: catching them in the air, picking them out of foliage on the ground, foraging for them in trees, and skimming them off the surface of water. A careful observer often see these tiny birds flitting around in the trees and foliage of wetland habitats.

 

 

Photo credit: MJ Pennell

 

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