Birds of BallenIsles
LIMPKIN - A large, long-legged wading bird with dark brown plumage extensively streaked with white and a long, slightly down-curved bill. Found around the edges of freshwater lakes, its diet consists mainly of apple snails and freshwater clams. The snail or clam is carried to shore where the Limpkin holds it upside down using its long toes. With nimble dexterity it quickly pulls the mollusk out of its shell to be eaten. These birds do not migrate and have not developed good flying skills. The name Limpkin comes from a high-stepping, slightly faltering gait that makes it appear injured.
OSPREY - A spectacular bird marked by its white head with dark eye-stripe, powerful white body and dark wings with distinctive barred feather markings when extended. Soaring and circling high above the water, they search for prey with their keen eyesight. Ospreys, unlike other raptors (birds of prey), have a specialized diet of only fish and can spot dinner from as high as 200 feet. Once their prey is spotted, they hover for a moment then dive feet first with amazing speed. While flying off with the catch in its talons, the Osprey repositions the fish head first into the wind and then shakes the water off its wings. All in all, one of Nature’s most stunning performances. Ospreys are also know for their tremendous nests commonly built in the forks of dead trees called snags but not infrequently found atop utility poles.
KINGFISHER - A very timid bird only 11-13 inches long it has a white body with blue-gray plumage along its back, chest and fuzzy crest. A large bill and head look out of proportion to its body size and their overall appearance is slightly portly. They are extremely fast and strong flyers and the instant you spot one it disappears flying off in the opposite direction. The Kingfisher will sit motionless on a telephone wire or fence post near the water watching for prey. When it spots something edible it will dive and catch it with its strong beak, then fly back to the perch with its food. Being cavity dwellers by nature, the Kingfisher lives by creek banks, burrowing tunnels into the dirt and sand.
TURKEY VULTURE - Sometimes called a Buzzard, this very unglamorous bird is really a good environmentalist. It is easily recognizable by its naked red head and broad two-tone black wings. The Turkey Vulture is a familiar sight soaring high above and seldom has to flap its wings as it glides and circles on thermals and upper air currents. It is a member in good standing of the bird sanitation department, regularly patrolling the countryside for recent fatalities. Unlike most birds, the Turkey Vulture has a well-developed sense of smell and locates carrion by odor. Not lovable but a very useful creature!
IBIS - This white bird is very easily identified by its long, red, down- curved bill and red legs. Ranging 23 to 27 inches in length, they tend to be very social with the ir own kind, nesting in colonies and feeding together along muddy or sandy shores. The Ibis uses its curved bill to probe around vegetation and into soft mud to feel for their favorite meals of crayfish, crabs, snails and insects. During early morning and at sunset, you may see them flying in formation. Small groups travel between the feeding grounds and their roost up to fifteen miles away.
BROWN PELICAN - This huge gray-brown bird, 45 to 54 inches long, has a long dark bill and pouch and white foreneck. These prehistoric looking birds make controlled crash landings into the water from great heights for fish, folding their wings back and torquing their bodies sideways just before the y enter the water. The bill scoops up more than two and a half gallons of water and perhaps a fish or two. Using its muscles, the Pelican squeezes out the water then swallows the fish. I have often seen them trying to steal a fish from an Anhinga or looking for a handout while sitting on a piling on a fishing pier.
WOOD STORK - This large, 40 to 44 inches in length, rather unattractive bird is listed as an endangered species. Found mainly in Florida it can be identified by its bald black head, large down-curved bill and white feathers except for its black flight and tail feathers. Roosting and nesting in treetop colonies, they feed on fish in shallow fresh water ponds. To feed , a wood stork walks slowly through shallow water with its bill held open under the surface. When a fish or tadpole touches its bill, a reflex causes the bill to snap shut very quickly with one of the fastest response times among vertebrates. Land development has reduced the ir numbers by 80% since 1930. I call them the “Nixon” birds as they often stand with their necks hunched into their bodies just like you know who.
SANDHILL CRANE - One of the largest birds of Florida the Sandhill Crane averages 40 to 48 inches in length. It sometimes stamps on the ground to stir up insects or forages for other food by probing with its bill, preferring the inland realm of lakes and fields to the shore. With overall gray bodies and a red crown, the Sandhill Crane mates for life. During mating season, the y break in to a spontaneous dance, leaping high into the air with wings slightly spread, followed by courtly bowing to each other. One pair was a frequent sight on the North Golf Course here and could often be seen feeding and quite unconcerned with our golf carts or tee shots.
ANHINGA - This bird is easy to spot as it is often viewed drying out its wings on a branch of a tree or the bank of a lake. When swimming, its body is submerged and only it’s long, thin neck and head (a bit snake-like) can be seen. It dives underwater and spears fish broadside with it’s sharp beak. After surfacing with its catch, the Anhinga shakes it’s head to loosen the fish and then swallows it head first. This bird is ebony black with gray-white markings on the back sides of its wings. The male’s head is black and the female has a tan head.
GREAT BLUE HERON - 38 to 54 inches in length and with a wing span of up to six feet, these noble birds are colony nesters but hunt and fish alone. Patiently patrolling the shorelines, it uses its bill like needle-nose pliers to capture small fish, amphibians and large insects. In flight, it is easily recognized by its slow, graceful but powerful wing beat and it’s neck that doubles back in an “S” curve to rest on its shoulders. Its identifying markings are white crown and face, black plume extending from above and behind the eye to beyond the back of the head, brownish-buff neck with black bordered stripe down the center of foreneck, blue-gray back, wings and belly, black shoulder and shaggy neck and back plumes.
LITTLE BLUE HERON - While only 25 to 30 inches long, the Little Blue Heron is a distinct species and not just a smaller version of the Great Blue Heron. A shy bird, it can be seen working its way around the shoreline, poking in every hiding place for small fish, frogs and insects. Immature birds are white then marble and turn blue. The Little Blue Heron has a dark slate-colored body, a maroonish brown neck, blue-gray, black-tipped bill and dull green legs.
GREAT EGRET - Nearly hunted to extinction for its plumage which was used for hat decorations, this bird is easily recognized by its all white body, yellow bill and black legs and feet. With a length of 35 to 41 inches, it commonly eats fish, crayfish, aquatic insects and frogs but will steal as easily as it forages. They are friendly birds, generally unafraid of humans, and have been known to fly in daily for a handout of food.
SNOWY EGRET - Also hunted almost to extinction for its elegant and delicate feathers, the snowy egret is 20 to 27 inches in length and has snow white feathers, whispy body plumes, black legs and bill and bright yellow feet. When feeding at the shoreline, it shuffles its feet along the sandy bottom to stir up fish and crabs to stab with its sharp beak.
ROSEATE SPOONBILL - One of the most spectacular birds in our area, the roseate spoonbill is named for its glorious pink, red and orange colored plumage and long, flat spatula like bill. Once hunted nearly to extinction, it is has only partially recovered. Usually spotted in small flocks in mangroves, salt marshes or coastal lagoons, spoonbills feed on shrimp and small fish by sweeping their spoon shaped bills from side to side in shallow water.
AMERICAN BALD EAGLE - About 3 feet long, it has a wingspan of up to 8 feet, a distinctive white head and tail, a brown body and a yellow beak and feet. Eagles soar with wings held rigidly flat. It feeds on mainly fish which are often stolen from ospreys and will also eat small mammals, some water birds and carrion. They are skilled hunters able to capture waterfowl in flight and rabbits on the run. They mate for life and will use the same nest is each year.