Here’s our ultimate guide to Florida Water Birds – and how to identify them!
Keep reading to learn more…
Florida Water Birds Overview
Whether you’re visiting Florida’s coastal areas, or its rivers, lakes, and wetlands; you’re sure to be serenaded with the fascinating sight of birds you’ll find.
Waterbirds are birds that live in or around water bodies, belonging to different orders and families.
Florida plays hosts to several families of water birds. There’s the egrets, ibises and herons group belonging to Order Ciconiiformes with over 15 species.
The ducks, swans, and geese belonging to the family of Anatidewa and order Anseriformes make up another common group in Florida with over 30 species.
Other groups of Florida water birds include the shorebirds, gulls, and warders belonging to Order Charadriiformes; the pelicans, cormorants and frigate birds of order Podifipediformes.
The best places to find a wide variety of waterbirds in Florida include Everglades National Park, Merrit Island National Wildlife Refuge, J.N. Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Dry Tortugas National Park and STA-5 Lake Okeechobee.
If these five places don’t do it for you, you have nothing to worry about. Florida is a tourist paradise with lots of coasts, lakes, beaches, and seaports where you can find water birds.
Florida’s coastal areas, beaches, and ports attract lots of recreational, fishing and tourist activities. Birds in these environments are quite accustomed to the heavy human presence.
This, in addition to their ability to escape easily through the air or water, makes the birds easily approachable. They allow you to come close and even photograph them.
According to an update by the Florida Ornithological Society’s Records Committee, Florida has a total of 525 bird species that occurred in the state of Florida either naturally or through establishing an exotic.
Origin and Evolution
Families of Water Birds in Florida
Florida water bird species are grouped into specific order and family. Some of the groupings include:
1. Ducks, swans, and geese (Order: Anseriformes, Family: Anatidae)
These water birds can live both in air and on water. They have flattened bills, web-like feet and feathers enriched with oils that shed off water.
Some waterbirds in this group are Snow goose, Brant, Wood duck, Cinnamon Teal, and American wigeon.
2. Pheasants and grouse (Order: Galliformes, Family: Phasianidae)
The Wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) bird belongs to this group of terrestrial birds, and they are usually plump with short wings.
3. Flamingoes (Order: Phoenicopteriformes, Family: Phoenicopteridae)
They’re usually around 4 feet tall, with beaks that easily separate silt and mud from their meals. The American flamingo (Phoencopterus ruber) is in this group.
4. Pigeons and doves (Order: Columbiformes, Family: Columbidae)
They have unusually short necks and slender bills. The Passenger pigeon, Inca dove, Mourning dove, and Rock pigeon are all found in this group.
5. Hummingbirds (Order: Apodiformes, Family: Trochilidae)
They have the unique ability to flap their wings in the air, allowing them to hover around. The White-eared Hummingbird (Hylocharis leucotis) is in this group.
History of the Birds and Evolution
There are historical reports of several millions of wading birds in Florida, but such reports have no reliable origin. The bird referred to in these reports is the White Ibis that had a population of around 100,000.
Another bird species with historical data is the Wood Stork that occurred in Southern Florida in the 1950s in 10,000 pairs. A decline occurred in the population of the White Ibis and Wood Stork in the 1960s.
The surveys conducted by the National Audubon Society and Florida Audubon Society between 1957 and 1960 revealed several bird colonies.
The survey carried out by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service between 1974 and 1975 revealed a total of 42 colony sites.
Some of the Common Water Birds in Florida
1. Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga)
Anhingas are typically large birds with slender outlines and S-shaped necks. When in flight, they look flattened with their wings, neck, and tail held out.
The adult male variety is usually black, while the female variety possesses pale heads, breasts, and neck.
They swim with their bodies fully or partially immersed in water, partially holding out their long necks. They equally love flying high into the sky, giving you a fantastic view of their white-streaked, flattened bodies.
2. Roseate spoonbills (Platalea ajaja)
They are medium-sized water birds you’re unlikely to miss in Florida. With their fascinating bodies shaped like a football, no tourist would want to leave Florida without capturing one on a camera.
They swing their heads sideways while hunting for food in the water. You’ll most likely find them in shallow shrubs by the edges of the water body, or in a tree nest.
3. Great Egret (Ardea alba)
You can spot Egrets easily by their long black legs, dagger-like yellowish bills and short tails.
They are wading birds that prey on small fishes and other small animals in water. They usually make their homes in nests high up in tall trees and aquatic habitats.
4. Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus)
Ospreys are large hawks with very distinctive body shape. Their large size doesn’t hinder them from keeping a slender body with long legs and wings. If you can see them up-close, they appear white; but in the sky, you’ll see them brown.
They hunt for fish in shallow water by flying down straight from the sky – a fascinating view to behold.
The Herons could easily pass for the most attractive water birds in Florida. Their colors differentiate the Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea) and the Tricolored Heron (Egretta tricolor).
While the Little Blue Heron is dark in color, appearing blue at close range, the Tricolored Heron has a mix of white, blue and lavender colors. There are other species of the Heron bird.
The birds are predators that wait patiently for their prey. They are wading birds that live in nests on trees.
6. Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)
This all-black bird is a member of the cormorant family of water birds widely spread across Florida and other parts of North America.
Its main food is fish which it hunts by diving. It possesses feathers that are not waterproof and has to dry them out after swimming.
When swimming, the double-crested Cormorant whole body is submerged in water, leaving just its neck and head above it. It makes a home in nests built on trees, island grounds, and cliffs.
7. Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)
The Brown pelican bird is a large bird with a long bill and a thin neck. It possesses broad and very long wings. It has a characteristic gray-brown color, with a white neck and yellow head.
The bird has an expandable throat pouch it uses for feeding.
8. White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)
The White Pelican is a migratory bird in Florida, snow-white in color, but appears black in flight due to its black feathers. The White pelican has yellow-orange legs and bill.
The bird feeds by picking up food from the water surface with their large beaks. It is known for being a heavy flying bird.
The various species of Florida’s waterbirds all have unique behavioral patterns, although similarities exist. These unique behaviors translate to the development of their interactions with one another.
Species with similar nutritional needs often feed in the same environment or habitat. However, these species use the available resources in unique ways. It is common to find related species living together in the same nest.
For instance, you’d most likely find a Little Blue Heron living with other Heron species.
Environmental effects on the behavior of these birds
Several millions of water birds make their homes in the Florida area. They depend on this area for breeding, wintering, and migration.
However, observations have shown that waterbirds in undeveloped shorelines have more tendencies to flee than those in developed shorelines.
More wading birds in developed shorelines displayed foraging behavior compared to those in undeveloped shorelines. Ducks, for instance, were observed showing better resting behavior than those in undeveloped shorelines.
Interestingly also, ducks took care of their young in developed shorelines than in undeveloped shorelines. These observations prove that there’s an environmental impact on the behavior of water birds.
People effect on the behavior and adaptations
The beautiful and scenic coastal areas and lakes of Florida serve as a tourist and recreational spots for many people. The ever-growing human population in these areas does have an impact on the water birds of Florida.
Human activities in the area, even things as simple as walking and boating, cause birds to flee, increasing energy spending and affecting their population levels.
Disturbances caused by human presence make some parts of the area inhabitable for the birds.
Life in the Wild
Millions of shorebirds, wading birds, diving ducks, and other waterfowl use the San Francisco Bay Estuary (the Bay) every year during migration, and throughout the breeding and wintering periods.
Current and Historical Data
With the protection of White Ibis, Great Egrets, and Snowy Egrets species achieved in 1915, their combined population reached over a million in the 1930s.
However, some other species like the Reddish Egret, Great White Heron and Roseate Spoonbill were still exploited hindering their population growth.
Over the next decades, several factors and events led to the alteration of Florida’s water bird population. In recent times, however, more stability has been achieved in the birds’ population.
Other Physical Characteristics
Some species, like the Anhingas, are very large; while some, like the Herons, are smaller in sizes. Other species, like the Roseatte spoonbills, are mediumly-sized. The unique features of each species determine the overall size of the bird, with the wingspan playing a considerable role.
The Wild Turkey has a weight range of 2500 to 10,800 grams. Costa’s Hummingbird has a range of 2 to 3 grams. The vast difference in the weights of these two water birds shows that the species have different weights.
3. Beak Size and Structure
Just like with the size and weight, the beak size and structure of a particular bird species different from the other. The beaks are naturally structured in line with their feeding patterns.
4. Eye Structure, Feather and Foot Color
The various water bird species have different adapted eye structure. Also, their feather and foot color differ from one another.
Many waterbird species build their nests in trees, with some preferring high points in a tree, like the Great Egret.
The nests serve as mating, breeding and wintering areas for them. While they continually shuttle their aquatic habitat, they never forget their cozy homes up in the sky.
In wetlands, their nesting sites include rushes, reeds, trees, and lignum. Herons and egrets make their homes in nests found on trees, rocky islands, reeds, and bushes.
Environment Favorable for Wading Birds
The ability of an environment to promote and sustain the stability and growth of the species population determines the favorability of that environment.
Important environmental considerations are the availability of food resources, the safety of nesting areas from predators, the size of the area, and space available.
The feeding patterns of water birds affect water bird availability, richness, and distribution in wetlands. We can group water birds by their feeding patterns. Guilds are groups of species that use the same type of resources for feeding.
Very little is known about the feeding ecology of waterbirds in southern Florida, but we can establish their feeding patterns by observing the water birds foraging along the coasts of Florida.
There are three main water bird guilds based on their feeding patterns.
The first guild frequent shallow waters and their feeding methods involve diving, submerging, and plunge-diving.
The second guild of water birds frequent hard substrate habitats, and they pick their food using the pecking technique.
The third guild frequent soft habitats, and the water birds in this group feed by peck digging and filtering.
Effects of Pollution and Plastic in their Habitat
The plastic pollution of water bodies leads to a variety of problems. It leads to the chemical contamination of the marine environment, resulting in toxic poisoning of marine life.
Waterbirds are put at risk when they feed on contaminated oceans.
1. Why is Anhinga called a snake bird?
The Anhinga has a swimming pattern that gives it the appearance of a snake positioned to attack.
While swimming, they have most of the body submerged in water, sticking the neck above the water.
2. Why were the plumes of egrets popular as fashion accessories in the 1900s?
Egrets have fine and attractive white plumes. The beauty of these plumes attracted many fashion enthusiasts to them, and they became a popular fashion accessory in no time.
3. What are the nesting sites of various water birds?
Typical nesting sites in wetlands include rushes, reeds, trees or lignum. Water birds live in colonies, sometimes comprising of several thousands of them.
4. What are the effects of human intrusion in their habitat?
Waterbirds love to be in and around water, and that is quite obvious from their nomenclature.
The upsurge of the human population in these areas for recreational and business activities creates disturbances that cause the birds to flee. Also, human intrusion makes some areas of the habitat inhabitable.
5. What are the effects of plastic pollution on water birds?
Plastic pollution of water bodies leads to a variety of problems. It leads to the chemical contamination of the marine environment, resulting in toxic poisoning of marine life. Waterbirds are put at risk when they feed on contaminated oceans.