BIRDS IN THE RESERVE

American Kestrels at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve

American Kestrel

Falco sparverius paulus
Its shrill “killy-killy-killy” can help identify this noisy falcon. The adult male kestrel has long, blue-gray wings and a long rusty tail. The plumage of the female and young is rather dull. Kestrels have reddish backs, a rusty, streaked belly, and a white face with double black stripes. A quick and tireless hunter of insects, small rodents, and birds, it is often seen hovering in one position looking for prey. Common across much of the country, it is a winter resident in the Reserve and does not breed locally.

Where to Find

The American kestrel are a non-migratory subspecies of kestrel found in open pine savannahs, sandhills, prairies, and pastures in Florida and the southeastern United States

Anhinga

Anhinga anhinga
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.

Where to Find

Anhinga's prefer freshwater and coastal aquatic habitats that include shrub or tree-covered islands or shores.
Anhinga at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve
Bald Eagles at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve

Bald Eagle

Haliaeetus leucocephalus
A victim of pesticides and human encroachment, the Bald Eagle 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.

Where to Find

Bald eagles often use forested habitats for nesting and roosting. Their nesting habitats usually consist of densely forested areas with mature trees away from human disturbance.

Belted Kingfisher

Megaceryle alcyon
The belted kingfisher is a pigeon-sized bird, blue-gray above and white below. Both sexes have the characteristic crest and blue chest band. Generally solitary, the kingfisher uses the same few perches to hunt for fish, although it also feeds on insects, mice, crabs and lizards. Belted kingfishers are commonly seen throughout the Reserve most of the year, but leave the area to breed in summer.

Where to Find

Belted kingfishers can be found in almost any waterside habitats, including the edges of small streams and ponds, large rivers and lakes, marshes, estuaries, and rocky coastlines.
Belted Kingfishers at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve
Black Skimmers at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve

Black Skimmer

Rynchops niger
The black skimmer 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.

Where to Find

Black skimmers are found inhabiting coastal areas in Florida such as estuaries, beaches, and sandbars.

Black Vulture

Coragyps atratus
The black vulture differs from the turkey vulture by its shorter, squared tail and whitish patches on the tips of its broad wings, and its legs are longer and whiter. Its feet extend to the edge of or beyond its tail. Its wings are usually flat in flight. In the Reserve, the black vulture and turkey vulture are often seen flying together.

Where to Find

Black vultures forage over open country, but typically roosts and nests in forests.
Black Vultures at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve
Blue-Grey Gnatcatchers at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve

Blue-Grey Gnatcatcher

Polioptila caerulea
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.

Where to Find

Blue-grey gnatchatchers are often found in open woods, oaks, pines, thickets, especially in forests dominated by oak, ash, maple or in southern pine woods.

Brown Pelican

Pelecanus occidentalis
The brown pelican 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 brown pelican is listed as a threatened species in Florida.

Where to Find

Brown pelicans are colonial nesters, using the ABC Islands Critical Wildlife Area in the Reserve as a rookery.
Brown Pelicans at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve
Double Crested Cormorants at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve

Double-Crested Cormorant

Phalacrocorax auritus
The double-crested cormorant has a long neck, short tail, and is frequently seen perched with wings spread outward. It is a large black bird with a hooked bill adapted for catching fish. It has an orange throat patch during breeding. An expert swimmer and diver, it spends most of its time in the water pursuing fish with agility. The double-crested cormorant is common year-round in Rookery Bay, and can be seen roosting in large numbers at the rookery islands.

Where to Find

Double-crested cormorants are often found on a vegetated coastal barrier and dredged-spoil islands. They can also be found on wooded islands in rivers, marshes, and phosphate settling ponds.

Eastern Screech Owl

Otus asio
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.

Where to Find

It can be found in pine flatwoods communities within the Reserve.
Eastern Screech Owls at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve
Fish Crow Wildlife in Naples | Rookery bay Research Reserve

Fish Crow

Corvus ossifragus
Somewhat smaller than the American crow, the gregarious fish crow is a completely black bird with large feet and bill. The fish crow is a common scavenger along beaches.

Where to Find

It can be seen using the rookery islands as temporary roosts, arriving near sunset in large, noisy flocks.

Florida Scrub-Jay

Aphelocoma coerulescens
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.

Where to Find

Florida scrub-jays are often found in the Florida scrub lands.
Florida Scrub-Jays at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve
Great Blue Herons at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve

Great Blue Heron

Ardea herodias
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.

Where to Find

Often solitary, Great Blue Herons can sometimes be found with large flocks of other waders at fish concentrations.

Great Egret

Ardea alba
A white bird with long, yellow bill and black legs, the great egret was once almost extirpated from North America by plume hunters. It feeds alone on fish, frogs, and snakes in shallow water.

Where to Find

Great egrets can often be found standing on mangrove prop roots in Rookery Bay. They nests in colonies with other species of herons on the rookery island.
Great Egrets at at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve
Great Horned Owls at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve

Great Horned Owl

Bubo virginianus
Ear tufts, bulky shape, and white throat help identify this large owl. It is brown with a heavily barred belly. The great horned owl is primarily nocturnal, roosting during the day. In flight it appears neckless and large-headed. Its call is a series of 3 to 8 deep hoots.

Where to Find

Great Horned Owls can sometimes be seen perched in a large slash pine along Shell Island Road.

Green Heron

Butorides virescens
The green heron is usually secretive. It is small, stocky, and has relatively short legs. The adult is green mixed with blue-gray, with chestnut on its neck and a white throat. The top of its head is greenish-black and its legs are yellow. During breeding season, the male has orange legs.

Where to Find

The green heron is usually solitary and may be seen perched on mangrove prop roots or hiding under a dock.
Green Herons at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve
Laughing Gulls at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve

Laughing Gulls

Larus atricilla
The laughing gull is named for its loud, highpitched, chuckling call. The adult is dark gray above, white below, and in summer has a black hood. The juvenile bird is mottled brown in color. The laughing gull is very agile and can be seen feeding on a wave crest grabbing small fish. It does not dive like terns.

Where to Find

The laughing gull and larger ring-billed gull are common along Reserve beaches.

Least Turn

Sterna antillarum
The smallest of Florida’s terns, the least tern is white with a black cap and white forehead. Its legs and bill are yellow and its back and wings are gray. Its forked tail helps it engage in remarkable aerial gymnastics while hunting for small fish. It can be heard making its high-pitched, “kip-kip” or “chir-eep” call.

Where to Find

A threatened species, least terns nest in colonies on site-specific sandy beaches each year. As these birds are quite sensitive to disturbance, visitors are cautioned to avoid nesting areas. Least terns spend winters in Central and South America and are present in southwest Florida from March through August.
Least Terns at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve
Little Blue Herons at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve

Little Blue Heron

Egretta caerulea
Starting out life as a white bird with a two-toned bill and pale legs, the little blue heron is sometimes confused with the snowy egret. The adult is slate blue, and its blue bill has a black tip. Its legs and feet are a dull greenish color.

Where to Find

In the Reserve, it is most commonly seen wading along oyster bars and shallows. It nests on the rookery islands.

Magnificent Frigatebird

Fregata magnificens
Having the largest wingspan in proportion to weight of any bird, the frigatebird has a spectacular capacity for soaring at great heights. Males of this species are black with a red inflatable throat pouch, which is used during courtship. The female has a white breast, and young birds have white on their head and belly. They have a hooked beak and forked tail. In the Reserve, frigatebirds are most commonly seen during summer.

Where to Find

Magnificent frigatebirds are often found along oceanic coasts and islands. They often occur over warm waters, usually along coasts but are also far offshore at times.
Magnificent Frigatedbirds at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve
Mangrove Cuckoos at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve

Mangrove Cuckoo

Coccyzus minor
Mangrove Cuckoos are part of a widespread family that includes anis, roadrunners and two other cuckoos in North America. Yellow-billed Cuckoos are, by far, the most commonly observed cuckoo in Florida, and very easily confused with the mangrove variety, which is only found along Florida’s southwest coast from Tampa Bay down through the Keys.

Where to Find

On numerous occasions, people have visited Rookery Bay Reserve from around the nation or beyond, specifically for the purpose of getting a glimpse this bird. Mangrove Cuckoos are relatively uncommon and often very secretive. They are considered by birders to be “skulkers” for their habit of moving slowly and seldom, in thick vegetation.

Mourning Dove

Zenaida macroura
The mourning dove is sandy brown in color with a pinkish hue on its underparts. Its tail is long and pointed, and in flight shows tail feathers bordered in white. Florida and some other states the mourning dove as a game bird and allow the hunting of it. In some states, it is protected as a song bird.

Where to Find

This bird frequents a variety of habitats and can be seen in along Shell Island Road.
Mourning Doves at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve
Ospreys at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve

Osprey

Pandion haliaetus
The osprey is large with long, narrow wings that are bent at the elbow. It is brown above and white below. Its head is mostly white with a dark stripe though the eye. The soles of its feet have rough pads that help the bird grip slippery fish, which it often carries in its talons as it flies to its perch or nest.

Where to Find

Ospreys often use channel markers in Rookery Bay as platforms for their large nests.

Pileated Woodpecker

Dryocopus pileatus
The pileated woodpecker is a large bird that usually prefers dense, mature trees in which to forage. It is mostly black in color with white neck stripes and white wing linings seen in flight. Both sexes have crested red caps, the male’s being more extensive. The pileated woodpecker has a powerful bill.

Where to Find

Its slow hammering and loud call may be heard in the pine flatwoods, tropical hardwood hammocks and mangrove fringe.
Pileated Woodpeckers at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve
Red Bellied Woodpeckers at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Melanerpes carolinus
A conspicuous bird, the red-bellied woodpecker is rather noisy as it utters a “chuck, chuck, chuck”, followed by a loud, often repeated “churrr.” It can readily be identified by a black and white barred back, a red crown and nape on the male and red nape on the female.

Where to Find

Red-Bellied Woodpecker frequents coastal islands and pine flatwoods.

Red-Shouldered Hawk

Buteo lineatus
The red-shouldered hawk is a medium-sized raptor. The adult has rusty colored wing linings and reddish, barred underparts. It is tail is dark with narrow white bands. The young bird is streaked rather than barred on its whiter underparts. Quite vocal during the spring breeding season, its call is a shrill “kee-yeer.” Its favorite food items are snakes and frogs.

Where to Find

The red-shouldered hawk forages in marshes and hydric pine flatwoods.
Red Shouldered Hawks at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve
Roseate Spoonbills at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve

Roseate Spoonbill

Ajaia ajaja
Named for its wide, spoon-shaped bill, the roseate spoonbill feeds by sweeping its head through the water in a side-to-side motion, straining small fish, crustaceans and insects. A mostly pink bird, it has white on its back and neck and red highlights on its wings and tail. Its eyes are ruby red. Spoonbills are typically nocturnal or crepuscular (dawn and dusk) feeders.

Where to Find

The Roseate Spoonbill is one of the largest coastal water birds found in the Reserve.

Royal Tern

Sterna maxima
A common, large sea bird, the royal tern has an orange bill and deeply forked tail. Although it shows a completely black cap during its short breeding season, adults generally have a mostly white forehead and black feathers forming a crest.

Where to Find

Feeding primarily on fish along the beach, the royal tern is most commonly seen during the winter.
Royal Terns at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve
Snowy Egrets at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve

Snowy Egret

Egretta thula
The snowy egret is one of the more common coastal water birds seen in the Reserve, especially during winter when migrating flocks arrive. Medium in size, the snowy egret is solid white, with a black bill and legs and bright yellow feet, which it uses as lures to attract fish. In spring, the snowy egret uses lace-like aigrettes (fancy feathers) on the back of its head and along its back as elaborate displays for courtship.

Where to Find

Snowy Egrets can be seen fishing the sandy shoreline or perched among mangrove roots, bill pointed toward the water.

Swallow-Tail Kite

Elanoides forficatus
Cock your ear to the sky to hear the tell-tale sound of spring returning to South Florida. By the third week of February it is official: “ee-EEE” sounds from the sky means swallow-tailed kites are returning from their South American wintering grounds. Usually seen before heard, kites are related to hawks and falcons. Swallow-tailed kites primarily eat insects and reptiles they catch in the treetops.

Where to Find

Swallow-Tailed Kite return to south Florida in mid-February and start pairing up and building nests in March. By July the young can fly and the annual return south begins shortly thereafter.
Sallow-Tailed Kites at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve
Tricolored Herons at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve

Tricolored Heron

Egretta tricolor
Commonly seen fishing along brackish coastal waters, the tricolored heron can be found up the Atlantic coast to Massachusetts. It is a medium-sized bird with a dark blue upper body, a chestnut-colored chest, and white on its neck and back. It has a yellow or white crest when breeding.

Where to Find

Tricolored Herons typically hunts along mangroves and oyster bars, using its long, slender bill to pluck small fish from the water.

Turkey Vulture

Cathartes aura
When soaring, two-tone wings in a “v” shape help identify the turkey vulture, which gracefully soars overhead often tipping from side to side. Turkey vultures are large, black birds with a long tail and bare-skinned, red head. They are easily mistaken for black vultures which have a shorter tail and black head. Turkey vultures’ preferred food is carrion, but they will eat garbage as well. Turkey vultures are winter visitors in Florida, commonly seen soaring in mixed flocks in air columns above the Reserve, especially near Little Marco Island.

Where to Find

Turkey vultures are winter visitors in Florida, commonly seen soaring in mixed flocks in air columns above the Reserve, especially near Little Marco Island.
Turkey Vultures at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve
White Ibis at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve

White Ibis

Eudocimus albus
The ibis has a wingspan of 37 inches and has a distinct, downcurved, pink bill that is used to probe the ground for food while foraging. Its diet is made up of crabs, fish, snakes, frogs and insects.

Where to Find

The white ibis is often found in coastal marshes and wetlands.

Wood Stork

Mycteria americana
The endangered Wood Stork has a 5 foot wingspan and bald head. It is white with black flight feathers and black tail. Its bill is long, thick, and slightly down-curved. This bird feeds by touch as it walks through water with its bill submerged waiting for contact with a fish. Feeding in this manner requires a large amount of fish in small concentrations. In recent years, the abudant food supplies have been scarce due to extremes of wet and dry weather. Favorable breeding conditions depend on these cycles of wet and dry periods.

Where to Find

Wood storks can be seen soaring over Rookery Bay Reserve during the winter months.
Click below to watch a video of a woodstork wading through the water foraging.
Woodstorks at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve
Yelllow Crowned Night Herons at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve

Yellow-Crowned Night Heron

Nyctanassa violacea
The yellow-crowned night heron is a slate gray bird with a black head. Its crown is buffcolored and its cheeks are white. During breeding season, long white plumes extend from its crown. Its legs are yellow-orange and in flight, its feet extend beyond its tail.

Where to Find

As its name suggests, this heron moves about more frequently at night, but it may be seen during the day roosting among the mangroves or feeding on mud flats.

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