Class Aves (Birds) in the Christopher B. Smith Preserve

Class Aves Characteristics: Birds are ectothermic, producing their own heat. They are vertebrates with strong skeletons; feathers; horny beaks; no teeth; and large yolked, hard-shelled eggs. Parents take care of their young. There are about 30 orders, 180 families, and 10,000 species of birds.

Interactions in the Smith Preserve: Birds have many important functions in the preserve. They regulate other species through seed dispersal, pollination, and predation. Some are responsible for carcass and waste disposal. A bird's prey, depending on its species, include insects, arachnids, fish, reptiles, other birds, and mammals. Bird guano is a soil fertilizer. Some birds modify the environment by gleaning leaf litter to build nests, while others excavate the environment to create burrows and cavities. The nests, burrows, and cavities are often used as habitat by other organisms.

 
Family
Species Name
Common Name
Accipitridae
Buteo lineatus
Red-Shouldered Hawk
Accipitridae
Elanoides forficatus
Swallow-Tail Kite
Accipitridae
Pandion haliaetus
Osprey
Anatidae
Anas fulvigula
Mottled Duck / Florida Duck
Anatidae
Cairina moschata
Muscovy Duck
Anhingidae
Anhinga Anhinga
Anhinga
Ardeidae
Ardea alba egretta
Great Egret
Ardeidae
Ardea herodias
Great Blue Heron
Ardeidae
Butoides virescens
Green Heron
Ardeidae
Egretta caerulea
Little Blue Heron
Caprimulgidae
Caprimulgus carolinensis
Cardinalidae
Cardinalis cardinalis
Northern Cardinal
Cathartidae
Carthartes aura
Ciconiidae
Mycteria americana
Wood Stork
Columbidae
Zenaida macroura
Mourning Dove
Corvidae
Cyanocritta cristata
Blue Jay
Icteridae
Quiscalus major
Boat-Tailed Grackle
Icteridae
Quiscalus quiscula
Common Grackle
Laniidae
Lanius ludoviciannus
Loggerhead Shrike
Mimidae
Mimus polyglottos
Northern Mockingbird
Parulidae
Setophaga coronata
Yellow-Rumped Warbler
Parulidae
Setophaga palmarum
Palm Warbler
Parulidae
Setophaga ruticilla
American Redstart
Phalacrocoracidae
Phalacrocorax auritus floridanus
Double-Crested Cormorant
Picidae
Dryocopus pileatus
Pileated Woodpecker
Picidae
Melanerpes carolinus
Red-Bellied Woodpecker
Picidae
Picoides pubescens
Downy Woodpecker
Psittacula
Psittacula krameri
Indian Rose-Ringed Parakeet
Sturnidae
Sturnus vulgaris
European Starling / Common Starling
Syliidae
Polioptila caerulea
Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher
Turdidae
Sialia sialis
Eastern Bluebird
Tyrannidae
Sayornis phoebe
Tyrannidae
Myiarchus crinitus
Great Crested Flycatcher

 

Family Acccipitridae

Buteo lineatus

Red-Shouldered Hawk

Buteo lineatus uses the same territory year after year. In fact, succeeding generations may return to the area. Red-shouldered hawks are monogamous and they have one brood per year.

These hawks are easily recognized by their rusty underparts, rufous shoulders, and black tails with five thin white bands. The male is larger than the female.

Buteo lineatus stalks prey from a perch as shown above. Food includes mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects, spiders, earthworms, snails and birds. The hawk shown in the last two pictures is eating a dragonfly, while perched in the Smith Preserve hammock.

 

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Elanoides forficatus

Swallow-Tail Kite

The adult Elanoides forficatus has a wing span of over 4 feet. Other distinguishing characteristics include having black and white coloration. Seen from the ground, the wing edges and tail are black, while the head and belly are white.

Swallow-tailed kites live in woodlands and forested wetlands near nesting locations. Nests are built in trees, usually near water.

These birds feed on small snakes, lizards, frogs, large insects, small birds, eggs, and small mammals. This one observed in the Conservancy's Smith Preserve flew into the top of a slash pine, and emitted a shrill "ee-ee-ee" sound as it grabbed a frog with its talons. Then it swooped into the sky and circled overhead. The frog's leg can be seen hanging from one talon in these photographs.

 

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Pandion haliaetus

Osprey

Pandion haliaetus, like other members of Family Accipitridae, is a bird of prey. It is a large bird with curved claws that allow it to carry a large fish a long distance.

Osprey are often heard before being seen. The song is a series of loud whistled "kyews" or a melodious whistle that sounds like "chewk-chewk-chewk" or "cheap-cheap-cheap."

These birds have a dark brown back with a purplish gloss. The eyes are yellow/orange. The head is mostly white with a broad black mark through the cheeks and sides of the neck. The belly is white and the long tail has narrow black bars. Females have a dark necklace across the white breast; males lack this marking. The individual shown in these photographs is a male.

Osprey dive into water to catch fish and after a successful catch, point the fish head forward to decrease wind resistance.

They are monogamous and can be colonial or solitary. The female usually cares for the chicks while the male brings food; the chicks are fed by both parents. Although osprey do not hunt for food in the Smith Preserve, the preserve is a short distance from the mangrove estuary that borders the Conservancy of Southwest Florida Nature Center property, and osprey frequent the air space above the Smith Preserve.

 

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Family Anatidae

Anas fulvigula fulvigula

Mottled Duck / Florida Duck /

Anas fulvigula fulvigula is a medium-sized duck that feeds mainly at the surface of the water and sometimes grazes on land. These ducks eat plants, mollusks, and aquatic insects.

This species is native to central and south Florida and is occasionally found in Georgia. It can be recognized by having a dark body, lighter head and neck, orange legs, and dark eyes.

Both sexes have a green-blue wingpatch that is not bordered in white feathers like that of a mallard. The male has a bright yellow bill, while the female (like this one photographed next to the Smith Preserve pond) has an orange beak lined in black splotches around the edges and near the base.

Mottled duck nests are built on the ground near vegetation, like marsh grasses.

Habitat destruction and excessive hunting may eventually reduce the numbers of individuals of this duck population which will result in hybridization with mallards. Hybridization will threaten to make the mottled duck disappear as a separate duck population.

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Carinia moschata

Muscovy Duck

On April 21, 2016, this mother muscovy and her 10 young ducklings were walking along the wooden bridge on Smith Preserve Way, trying to figure out how to get to the pond.

Members of the species are mostly black and white. Their feet have long claws; the tail is wide and flat.

This species is a fairly large duck, with females half the size of males. Males are more iridescent and glossy; females are drab.

Adult males and females have pink or red caruncles. Caruncles form a fleshy mask that surrounds the eyes and other areas of the head, and can be seen on this female.

This bird is a non-migratory species that eats plants. small fish, amphibians, reptiles, millipedes, insects, and crustaceans.

Muscovy ducks are native to Mexico and Central and South America. In the United States, they are considered an invasive species that competes with native species, damages property, and transmits diseases to other water fowl.

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Family Anhingidae

Anhinga Anhinga

Anhinga

Anhinga anhinga, sometimes called the snakebird, often swims with only its neck above water, which makes it look like a snake.

This water bird of the warmer parts of the Americas has dark plumage and a very long neck. A male is glossy black; the tip of the tail has white feathers; and the back of its head and neck have long gray, white, and purple feathers, as shown in the photographs above taken at the Smith Preserve filter marsh. A female (shown at left) is similar, but has a light brown head, neck, and upper chest. The breast of the female is a chestnut color.

Anhingas have a similar size and appearance to Phalacrocorax auritus (Double-crested Cormorants), but anhinga tails are wider and longer and their bills are pointed, while cormorant bills are hook-tipped.

Anhingas cannot waterproof their feathers like ducks, so the feathers become waterlogged. As a result, they can dive deep to search for food (fish and amphibians.) After emerging from the water, they spread their wings to dry, as shown in the first and third photographs.

 

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Family Ardeidae

Ardea alba

Great Egret

Ardea alba egretta's habitat includes both salt and freshwater marshes. The individuals shown here came to fish in the Smith Preserve filter marsh.

Great egrets feed mainly on fish, frogs, small mammals, and sometimes small reptiles and insects. An individual captures food by spearing it with its long, sharp bill. It usually stands still and waits for prey to come within striking distance of its bill, as shown in these photographs. But, sometimes it slowly stalks its prey.

Identifying characteristics include its large size (up to one meter tall), a long yellow bill, long black legs and feet, and all white plumage.

Once large numbers of Ardea alba egretta were killed for their plumage to decorate ladies hats. More recently their numbers have increased because of conservation, but in some parts of the US, their numbers are declining because of habitat loss.

 

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Ardea herodias

Great Blue Heron

Ardea herodias is the largest heron in North America. It can be recognized by its size, yellowish bottom bill, and bluish-gray color. As is shown in the first two photographs, the angle of the light affects the appearance of the color. Both photographs were taken of the same bird, only minutes apart, but from different angles.

Great blue herons are wading birds. The bird shown here was standing on a log in the filter marsh one early morning and it was motionless. Later, it would likely hunt for fish, frogs, and large insects in and along the banks of the marsh.

Below, this young Great Blue Heron is extending its wings to bask in the morning sun. Note: its overall color is dull compared to the mature bird above and the crown of its head is a dull blackish-gray color.

In the breeding season, a great blue heron has several long black plumes on the back of its crown. Breeding is monogamous in colonies.

Incubation of the eggs is done by both parents, as is feeding of the chicks. There may be two broods per year in southern Florida.

 

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Butorides virescens

Green Heron

Compared to other members of Family Ardeidae, this species is small, with a body length of only about 44 cm.

An adult has a glossy, greenish-black cap, a greenish-gray back, and wings that have a green or blue hue with feather tips outlined in light grey. The neck is a chestnut color with a white center line that continues down the front of the breast. Legs are short and yellow; the beak is dark, long, and sharply pointed.

These birds form seasonally monogamous pairs. The male courts the female with vocalizations and a puffed-up head and neck plumage display. He selects the nesting site. A clutch is usually 2 to 6 green eggs. Both parents incubate the eggs and feed the young.

Their habitat is wetlands, where these birds are seen most easily at dusk and dawn. The birds capture food by remaining motionless while standing in shallow water or perched above the water on overhanging branches. Sometimes they drop objects into the water to attract fish. This distinguishes the species as a tool-user.

Diet usually consists of small fish, frogs, and aquatic insects and other arthropods.

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Egretta caerulea

Little Blue Heron

Both adult and immature Egretta caerulea have visited and been photographed at the filter marsh at the Smith Preserve. These birds are medium-sized, long-legged herons with long pointed blue and grey bills with black tips.

Young birds have white plumage, except for dark wing tips. Their beaks are bluish with black tips and they have greenish-blue legs. The individual at right shows these characteristics. As they mature, they take on a mottled white and blue "tie dye" look and gradually change to the colors of non-breeding adults: all blue plumage and greenish-yellow legs.

Breeding adults have blue-grey plumage except for their purple heads and necks. They also develop long blue filamentous plumes on the back of their heads. Their legs and feet are dark blue.

A little blue heron stalks its prey in shallow water, often running along in the process. Its food includes fish, frogs, crustaceans, small rodents, spiders and insects. In the third photograph above, this individual has just speared what appears to be a six-spotted fishing spider.

 

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Family Caprimulgidae

Caprimulgus carolinensis

Chuck Wills Widow

Caprimulgus carolinensis spends the day sleeping on the ground. Its large flat head and long wings give it an odd shape, and as is shown in these photographs, this shape and dappled brown plumage give it great camouflage. Examine the second photograph and you may be able to distinguish its two eyes and beak.

At dusk, Caprimulgus carolinensis becomes active and sings its distinctive "Chuck-will's widow... Chuck-will's widow" over and over. It hunts for insects by flying low over the ground. Its favorite foods includes moths, beetles, and dragonflies. But occasionally, it will eat small birds and bats. Chuck-will's-widows breed in forested areas, but they tend to live in more open areas. In the photographs below, a Chuck-will's widow chose a spot in the Preserve on the ground among dead leaves, pine needles, and liatris to lay and incubate two eggs.

 

The photographs at left were taken by Ian Bartoszek, Conservancy of Southwest Florida biologist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Family Cardinalidae

Cardinalis cardinalis

Northern Cardinal

 

Cardinalis cardinalis is a mid-sized songbird with a distinctive crest on its head and a mask on its face. The male, as shown in this picture, is bright red with a black mask. The female is dull red-brown with a gray mask.

Cardinals make a diet of seeds, insects, and fruit.

The male determines his territory and marks it with its song. During courtship, he feeds seed to the female beak-to-beak. Pairs mate for life.

The female lays a clutch of three to four eggs in a cup-shaped nest she builds with the help of the male. She can produce two to four clutches each year.

Cardinalis cardinalis adults are preyed upon by shrikes and owls. Chicks and eggs are preyed upon by snakes, blue jays, squirrels, chipmunks and domestic cats.

 

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Family Cathartidae

Cathartes aura

Turkey Vulture

 

Cathartes aura's common name is turkey vulture because it resembles a turkey with its red skin head and dark feathered body. Also known as a “buzzard, this large bird is a scavenger with a very important role to play in the Smith Preserve. It is one of the clean-up crew.

As seen in these photographs, this bird is easily recognized by its two-tone wings, black in front and silver gray behind. As turkey vultures soar, they hold their wings above their backs in a shallow V and rock from side to side. They circle just above treetops to 200 feet searching for dead animals. During flight, they use both scent and sight to locate food.

Buzzard breeding is monogamous, and while raising their chicks, both share in feeding the young by regurgitating food.

Turkey vultures are very resistant to most diseases, especially those likely to be present in carrion.

 

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Family Ciconiidae

Mycteria americana

Wood Stork

This young bird was resting in the northeast corner of the Smith Preserve near the fence that borders the Naples Zoo and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

Wood storks are large birds; adults are 83 cm to 115 cm in height. An adult is easily recognizable by its bare gray head and upper neck, thick curved dusky yellow bill, white body, and black wing margins. Legs are blackish gray color; feet are pink.

This wood stork is an immature. It has feathers on top of the head and neck and it has a paler bill than an adult.

Typically, a wood stork wades in shallow water up to its belly with its head down when feeding.

As of June 26, 2014, wood storks are considered a threatened species in the United States because of breeding habitat loss. Breeding season is during late winter and is timed to Florida's dry season when fish prey are concentrated in shrinking pool.

 

 

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Family Columbidae

Zenaida macroura

Mourning Dove

Zenaida macroura has a slender pointed tail, plump body, short orange legs, and a small head. Its black eye is surrounded by a light blue eye-ring. Individuals are camouflaged with buffy-tan feathers highlighted by black spots on the wings.

Mourning doves are monogamous and may pair for life. While building a nest, males produce a "coo-OO-oo" call. A mated pair has 5 to 6 broods each year in Florida. Young are fed by both sexes with "Pigeon's milk" that each parent produces in its crop. To feed the young, the adult regurgitates this "milk" with seeds that are also stored in the crop. Males aggressively defend their territories, but after breeding, they gather to roost.

Mourning doves forage for seeds on the ground. When taking off, their wings produce a sharp whinnying sound. This species is the most hunted migratory game bird in North America.

 

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Family Corvidae

Cyanocritta cristata

Blue Jay

Cyanocitta cristata has a white chest and belly, a blue back, and a blue crest. A narrow, black, collar circles its neck and borders the crest. The tail feathers have black bars on a blue background. Its eyes, legs, and bill are black. Both sexes are identical in appearance.

Blue jays forage in trees, shrubs, and on the ground. Food consists of nuts and seeds, fruits, insects, and sometimes small vertebrates. They aggressively chase and kill smaller birds, and they raid other birds' nests, steal the eggs and chicks, and use the nest for raising their own offspring.

If not stealing another bird's nest, both sexes of jays help construct a cup-shaped nest in the branches of a tree. Blue jays are usually monogamous and pair for life.

Since blue jays are slow fliers, they are easy prey for hawks and owls.

Cyanocritta cristata emits a shrill scream if it sees a predator within its territory. This warning alarm signals other birds to find shelter. In addition to this scream, blue jays produce many other vocalizations. In the Smith Preserve, jays often make a call that mimics that of a red-shouldered hawk.

 

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Family Icteridae

Quiscalus major

Boat-Tailed Grackle

 

An adult male Quiscalus major has iridescent black plumage, a long dark bill, brown eyes, and a long keel-shaped tail. The female is much smaller than the male, and its tail is shorter. Its wings and tail are dark like the male, but other plumage is tawny-brown.

Boat-tailed grackles forage on the ground, in shallow water, and in shrubs. They eat berries, seeds, and grains, as well as insects, small fish, frogs, eggs, and small birds.

They are gregarious birds and often gather in flocks.

The Quiscalus major song is a harsh "jeeb," and it also produces typical grackle chatters and squeaks.

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Quiscalus quiscula

Common Grackle

The male Quiscalus quiscula has a long dark bill, yellowish eyes, and a long tail. Its feathers are black with purple, green, and blue iridescence on the head and bronze iridescence on the rest of the body. The adult female is much smaller and less iridescent than the male. Her tail is shorter, and her plumage is brown with no purple or blue iridescence.

During the breeding season, males lean their heads back and fluff their feathers to keep other males away. They also do this behavior to intimidate predators. Note the fluffed feathers in the photograph.

Quiscalus quiscula forages on the ground, in shallow water, and in shrubs, where it finds and eats berries, seeds, grains, insects, spiders, snails, small fish, frogs, eggs, small birds, and mice.

Like many grackles, the common grackle practices "anting." This behavior involves rubbing ants on its feathers to apply formic acid secreted by the ants. This probably rids the bird of parasites.

Common grackles are very gregarious and large flocks can be extremely noisy.

 

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Family Laniidae

Lanius ludoviciannus

Loggerhead Shrike

 

 

Lanius ludoviciannus, called the “butcher bird”, lives in open fields with scattered trees. It perches in the open and watches for prey. Once it spots prey, it captures it with its large, hooked beak. Then it impales the prey on a plant spine or piece of barbed wire. The purpose of impaling the prey might be to cache it for future use, to soften the food for easier digestion, or to advertise its territory. Prey include insects, small rodents, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.

In the Smith Preserve, a loggerhead shrike was observed as it captured a large grub of Strategus splendens (Ox Beetle) and impaled it on a tree branch.

Plumage characteristics of Lanius ludoviciannus include: grey head and back, white underparts, black wings, white markings on the tail, and a black face mask extending over its bill.

 

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Family Mimidae

Mimus polyglottos

Northern Mockingbird

Mimus polyglottos is the state bird of 5 states, including Florida. The species name, polyglottos, means "many tongued mimic". This is a very appropriate name since this bird can imitate the sound of dozens of other birds, as well as other animals, machinery, and even musical instruments.

Both sexes are similarly colored with mostly gray upper parts and white underparts. Each individual has white wing patches on its blackish wings. The tail is long and blackish-gray above with white outer feathers. The beak is short and black with a brownish-black base. The legs are long. The iris is usually light greenish-yellow or yellow, but it is sometimes orange.

These birds are solitary or in pairs. They are omnivores that forage on the ground or in bushes and trees. Their diet consists mostly of insects and fruit, but they sometimes eat other arthropods, earthworms, seeds, and occasionally lizards.

Both the male and female reach sexual maturity after 1 year. The breeding season is in the spring and early summer. Breeding is monogamous. Both sexes help build the nest in the fork of a tree or shrub from sticks, stems, bits of fabric, dead leaves, and string. Both sexes feed the chicks and defend the nest, attacking larger birds and mammals that approach too close.

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Family Parulidae

Setophaga coronata

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

 

Setophaga coronata plumage is brown with yellow streaks. These photographs were taken different years during the winter at the Preserve. Like many birds, the colors are more vivid during spring migration and breeding season.

At those times, plumage is a bright mix of yellow, charcoal gray, black, and white. Setophaga coronata get its common name "yellow-rumped" for obvious reasons.

Yellow-rumped warblers forage in tree canopies and actively pursue insects midair. In the winter, they spend a lot of time eating berries, and traveling in large flocks.

Yellow-rumped warblers have distinctive, sharp chips.

 

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Setophaga palmarum

Palm Warbler

Setophaga palmaru is easily recognized by the tail-wagging habit it has that shows off its yellow undertail. In addition to the yellow undertail, it has a rusty-capped head and a dark eyestripe.

Setophaga palmaru spends much of its time on the ground and in shrubs and trees looking for insects and berries.

These warblers breed in bogs and winter in large numbers in the southern United States and Caribbean.

 

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Setophaga ruticilla

American Redstart

A Setophaga ruticilla breeding male, like the one shown here, is jet black with large orange patches on its wings and tail. The sides of its breast are orange and the belly is cream colored. Non-breeding males have green upperparts and grey heads. Females and young birds have yellow patches where the male has orange. Both the orange and yellow coloration are caused by carotenoids.

About 75% of male American redstarts are monogamous; about 25% maintain more than one territory and are polygynous. The intensity of a male's color determines its success at holding a territory in its non-breeding, winter location in the Caribbean, and the probability that it will be polygamous. Redstarts breed in open woods and scrub, usually near water. The female lays 2-5 eggs in a cup-shaped nest in the lower part of a bush.

These birds are quite active. While flying, American redstarts often chase and eat flies. They also glean insects from vegetation. American redstarts sometimes flash the orange and yellow of their tails to startle insects from the underbrush.

Their call is a soft chip.

 

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Family Phalacrocoracidae

Phalacrocorax auritus floridanus

Double-Crested Cormorant

Phalacrocorax auritus floridanus is one of the five subspecies of Phalacrocorax auritus, and the smallest of the five. This subspecies is found from southern and central Texas east to the Atlantic, and from North Carolina south to Florida. Once abundant throughout its range, that is true now only in Florida.

Mature adults are black and get a double crest of black and white feathers during breeding season. Those breeding feathers give the species its common name, "double-crested" cormorant. Double-Crested Cormorants have a bare patch of orange-yellow skin on the face.

These birds are considered seabirds that frequent inland waterways and coastal areas. They hunt by swimming and diving; diet is mainly fish. Since the feathers are not waterproof, after swimming, these birds often use their webbed feet to perch, while they spread their wings to dry.

Males and females have a similar appearance. Plumage of the juveniles is dark gray or brown, not black, and the underparts are lighter than the back. The photograph shown here is a juvenile that was resting on an exposed piece of a broken branch in the Smith Preserve Pond.

Some people confuse cormorants with anhingas. Anhingas have straight beaks, while cormorants have hooked beaks.

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Family Picidae

 

Dryocopus pileatus

Pileated Woodpecker

Dryocopus pileatus is a very large (40 to 49 cm long), mostly black woodpecker that is native to North America. As shown in these photographs, this species has a long black and white striped neck, a red, triangular crest on the top of the head, and a black line through the eye. In flight, underwings reveal white markings. Males have a red stripe on the cheek. Females have a black stripe on the cheek.

This male woodpecker was observed using its chisel-like beak to construct a hole in a standing dead Pinus elliottii densa (Southern Florida Slash Pine).

A male typically constructs the nest hole. A female lays about four eggs in the hole and both parents incubate the eggs for 12 - 16 days. Young may take a month to fledge.

Nest holes provide shelter for eggs and young piliated woodpeckers, as well as bats, owls, swifts, and other birds when the woodpeckers vacate the nest.

Pileated woodpeckers are forest birds that typically need standing dead and downed trees. They drill rectangular-shaped holes in the wood to obtain carpenter ants and wood-boring beetle larvae for food. Additionally, they eat fruits, nuts, and berries (including poison ivy berries).

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Melanerpes carolinus

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Melanerpes carolinus adults have a gray face and underparts. Black and white barred plumage adorns their backs, wings and tails. An adult male has red plumage from its bill to the nape of its neck, while a female has a red patch of red on the nape of its neck and a second patch above its bill. But, it is the red tinge on its belly that gives Melanerpes carolinus its common name "Red- Bellied Woodpecker."

Red- bellied woodpeckers search for insects and spiders on tree trunks, and catch insects in flight. They also eat fruits, nuts, and seeds. The top right photograph shows one with a seed in its beak.

These birds breed in deciduous forests and like to nest in decayed tree cavities, stumps, and in live trees that have soft wood (elms, maples, and willows). Both sexes help dig the nesting cavity.

Predators of adult red-bellied woodpeckers include hawks, snakes, and house cats. Predators of young woodpeckers and eggs include red-headed woodpeckers, owls, pileated woodpeckers, and rat snakes.

When approached by a predator, red-bellied woodpeckers either hide, or they send an alarm call and try to startle the predator. They defend their nests by attacking predators.

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Picoides pubescens

Downy Woodpecker

Picoides pubescens is the smallest woodpecker in North America. It has a straight bill and straight back. The black upperparts are checked with white on the wings, the head is striped, and the back has a broad white stripe down its center. The outer tail feathers are white with a few black spots. A male has a small red patch on the back of its head. As shown in these photographs, a female lacks this patch.

Downy Woodpeckers live in open woodlands and along brushy and weedy edges.

The sexes attract each other by using their bills to drum on trees. Once paired, they excavate their nest by using their bills to dig into a dead tree trunk. Females lay four or five eggs into the nest and the male does most of the sitting on the eggs.

Downy woodpeckers are very agile and use their claws to climb around tree limbs, tree trunks, and tall weeds to locate food. They eat primarily insects, including beetle larvae that live under tree bark, ants, and caterpillars. They even eat insect galls. About one-fourth of their diet consists of berries, acorns, and grains. Downy Woodpeckers sometimes feed on sap that leaks from trees where yellow-bellied sapsuckers have drilled holes.

Picoides pubescens predators include hawks and snakes.

 

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Family Psittaculidae

Psittacula krameri

Indian Rose-Ringed Parakeets

Psittacula krameri is a non-migrating bird that has successfully adapted to live in disturbed habitats. Feral populations exist in Florida, California, and Hawaii.

Originally from India and Africa, there are four subspecies. Individuals living in the United States are probably the progeny of escaped or released Indian Rose-Ringed Parakeets (Psittacla Krameri manillensis).

Average adult length of this parakeet is 40 cm, including tail feathers. Males and females have distinctive differences; males have red neck-rings; hens, like the two shown in these photographs taken on April 21, 2014, and immatures lack neck-rings or have pale to dark grey neck-rings. All can be easily identified by the light green plumage, long tail, and noisy squawking call.

In the wild, Indian rose-ringed parakeets usually eat buds, fruits, vegetables, nuts, berries and seeds. In some areas of the world, wild flocks cause extensive damage while foraging farmlands and orchards.

Besides competing with other species for food, these parakeets compete with native hole-nesting birds for nesting cavities.

On April 24, 2014, the sighting of this species prompted a report by the photographer on behalf of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for the Early Detection and Distribution Mapping System (EDD MapS) of invasive species.

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Family Sturnidae

Sturnus vulgaris

European Starling / Common Starling

Sturnus vulgaris was intentionally brought to North America in the nineteenth century. Today, European Starlings are credited with being among the continent's most numerous songbirds.

Unlike Quiscalus sp. (Grackles), Sturnus vulgaris has a short tail. It is stocky, with triangular wings, and a long, slender, pointed bill. When flying, the short, pointed wings make the bird look like a 4-pointed star. This appearance is the origin of the common name "starling."

As shown in these photographs, taken February 10, 2014, winter feathers are covered in white spots. In summer, the birds turn dark and glossy with a purple-green iridescence.

Starlings are loud and often travel in large groups with blackbirds and grackles. Their vocalizations include a constant stream of rattles, whirrs, and whistles.

They feed on the ground and perch and roost high on wires, trees, and buildings.

The individual shown here is a non-breeding adult. A breeding adult is glossy black, with iridescent purple and green pale spots on its back. Wings are brownish and the bill is yellow with a blue base. A juvenile is dull gray- brown with a short tail, fairly long wings, and a straight, black bill.

As shown in the first photograph, starlings nest in cavities. If a starling finds a cavity that is occupied by another bird, it is known to destroy eggs and/or kill chicks. This can be devastating to other native birds that nest in cavities, among which are Eastern Bluebirds, Great Crested Flycatchers, and Woodpeckers.

Each pair of starlings can have three clutches of eggs each year.

European Starlings eat seeds, fruits, insects (caterpillars and beetles), and other invertebrates (snails, centipedes, earthworms, and spiders).

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Family Syliidae

Polioptila caerulea

Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

 

Polioptila caerulea is a very small (ten to 13 cm long) song bird that forages at branch tips at the tops of tall trees. It catches insects on the wing and sometimes hovers briefly above its prey before capturing it. It also gleans insect eggs and spiders from foliage. The individuals shown here were in tall oak trees. The bird's distinctive call, "spee, spee, spee", was heard before the birds were seen.

A male bird has a bluish-gray back and white underparts. It has a white eye ring and a black unibrow above its eyes. Its tail is black with white outer feathers. Females are similar in color to males, but with less blue, and they lack the unibrow. The birds shown in these photographs are females.

Blue-gray gnatcatchers are monogamous and solitary nesters. Their cup-shaped nests are made from plant fibers, lined with pieces of bark, and covered with lichens held together by spider silk. Nests are usually constructed on a horizontal branch or in the fork of a tree. Both sexes help construct the nest and feed the young.

 

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Family Turdidae

Sialia sialis

Eastern Bluebird

 

This male Sialia sialis was posed in the early morning sun on a wire above the scrub.

A male has a bright blue back and a bright reddish brown throat and breast. A female is duller in color, with a gray back and brown throat and breast. Both sexes have short slender beaks and short legs.

Bluebirds prefer open land with scattered trees for perching, nesting and feeding. Nests are small, cup-like structures woven from grasses or pine needles lined with grass, feathers, stems, and hairs, and are frequently built in a nest box. The Smith Preserve provides all of these materials, including a nest box.

Sialia sialis eats mostly insects, but will eat berries and seeds in the winter when insects are more difficult to find.

 

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Family Tyrannidae

Sayornis phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

 

Sayornis phoebe is easily recognized by its wagging tail and distinctive harsh call of "FEE-be". Eastern phoebes perch in tree branches, scanning the area for insects. The individual in this photograph was heard before it was spotted in an tall oak in the Smith Preserve.

An eastern phoebe has black eyes, legs, and feet. Its bill is also black. The upper portion of its head and back are covered in brownish-gray feathers. As shown in the photograph, the neck and belly are white. The breast is white with a hit of olive on the sides. The plumage of both sexes is similar.

Eastern phoebes often catch insects in midair, but they also forage for them in foliage and on the ground. In addition to eating insects, they consume small fish, berries, and fruit.

Sayornis phoebe is monogamous and a solitary nester. The female builds the nest attached to a vertical wall, bridge, or beam. The nest is constructed of mud pellets covered with moss. She lines the nest with vegetation, hair, and feathers. The young are fed by both sexes.

 

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Myiarchus crinitus

Great Crested Flycatcher

Myiarchus crinitus adults of both sexes have brown backs and yellow underparts. Their throats and upper breasts are grey, and their tails are long and rusty brown. The species gets its common name "Great Crested Flycatcher" from its bushy crest.

These birds breed in forests across eastern North America and have been observed in the trees at the Smith Preserve. They nest in cavities in trees, and they usually line the nest with a snake skin or a piece of plastic wrapper.

To obtain food, they wait on high perches and fly out to capture insects in flight. They also hover over vegetation and building structures to catch insects. Besides insects, their diet includes fruits and berries.

The call of these birds sounds like a whistled, "weep."

 

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© Photographs and text by Susan Leach Snyder (Conservancy of Southwest Florida Volunteer), unless otherwise credited above.

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