Found in southern swamps and estuaries, the anhinga is also known as the snakebird because it swims with its body submerged, with only its head and long neck above water. Both sexes are dark colored, but the male’s wings have a silvery-gray streaking pattern, and the female has a buff-colored neck and breast. The anhinga has a long, serrated bill that is well suited for spearing fish, and a long tail. Although it prefers fresh water, the anhinga can be seen throughout the Reserve.
A victim of pesticides and human encroachment, the Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is making a comeback in many areas of its former range. Although it is a year-round resident and breeds in South Florida, the Bald Eagle is no longer on Florida's imperiled list. The adult bird is 30 - 43 inches in length and is easily identified by its white head and tail and large yellow bill. A young Eagle is mostly black. While they are known scavengers, the Bald Eagle's main diet consists of fish. Several Eagle pairs nest on the reserve annually.
The black skimmer (Rynchops niger) is a handsome black and white water bird with a red and black bill. Its elongated lower mandible, which extends well beyond the tip of its upper bill, slices through the water like a knife as it feeds on small fish near the surface. Black skimmers make shallow scrape nests in the sand from May through August. The black skimmer is a Species of Special Concern seen along Florida’s beaches and inlets.
A tiny but animated bird, the blue-gray gnatcatcher is fairly noticeable year round in treetops as it catches small insects. It is bluegray above with white underparts. Its long tail is darker gray with white outer feathers. It has a white eye-ring. The call of the bluegray gnatcatcher is a nasal “pwee,” which it utters frequently.
The brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) is approximately 48" long with a wingspan of nearly seven feet. It is unlike other pelicans in that it spots fish from the air and plunges into the water bill-first. This is a tricky maneuver that must be quickly learned by fledgling birds if they are to avoid starvation. Immature birds are mostly grayish brown with white under parts, whereas adults have a dark belly and a white or yellow head depending on season.
The only small eastern owl with ear tufts, the screech owl is generally reddish in color, although a gray phase may occur. It has yellow eyes and a pale-colored bill. It is nocturnal and is best identified by its voice: a series of descending, quavering whistles, or a long, single trill. It can be found in pine flatwoods communities within the Reserve.
The crestless jay has a blue head, whitish forehead and a dark streak through the eyes. Its back is gray, underparts white, and wings and tail blue. It feeds on insects, seeds, and acorns, and is only seen in the coastal scrub on Shell Island Road. The Florida scrub-jay is a subspecies of the more common western bird. Reintroduced to the Reserve scrub, birds seen here will have leg bands that are used by researchers to identify individual birds and track the population.
The great blue heron is the tallest of the wading birds. It is often noticed standing motionless in shallow water, watching for fish, which make up the majority of its diet. It is slate-blue in color with a white head, black stripe above the eye, and yellow bill. Often solitary, it can sometimes be found with large flocks of other waders at fish concentrations.