BIRDS IN THE RESERVE

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

American Kestrel

Falco sparverius
This small falcon can be identified by its shrill call and is often seen perched on powerlines along roads or near fields. A quick and tireless hunter of insects, small rodents, and birds, it may be seen hovering in one position looking for prey. To assist with finding small mammals, American kestrels can see in ultra-violet allowing them to follow urine trails left by their prey. Its body is a rusty color with two distinctive black slashes on the face but the species is sexual dimorphic. Males have blueish-gray wings while females have brown. The resident population nests in cavities that they find such as wood pecker holes, nooks in man-made structures, nest boxes or tree hollows.

Where to Find

American kestrels are found throughout the United States, Canada and South into Central America. In Florida they are found in open areas with sporadic trees or in cities near green spaces.

Anhinga

Anhinga anhinga
Anhingas are also known as the snakebird because it swims with its body submerged, with only its head and long neck above water. Commonly confused with the double crested cormorant the anhinga has a longer pointed bill and longer neck. The anhinga has a long, serrated bill that is well suited for spearing fish, and a long tail. The bodies of both sexes are black with white streaking on the wings, but females and juveniles have a buff-colored neck and breast. When breeding they join other wading birds to form colonies for protection from predators. Although it prefers fresh water, the anhinga can be seen throughout the Reserve.

Where to Find

Anhinga's are found coastally from Mexico into Central America, up to West Virginia and into the Caribbean. They prefer habitats that include 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 are found throughout North America with different habits depending on where they live. Often the 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. Females have a rusty color on their breast while males do not. Generally solitary, kingfishers may use the same perches to hunt for fish, although it also feeds on insects, mice, crabs and lizards. Belted kingfishers are commonly seen throughout the Reserve during the non-breeding season.

Where to Find

Belted kingfishers are found throughout North America but are nonbreeding in Florida. They can be found alongside almost any waterway from canals, marshes to estuaries.
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
This distinctive black and white sea bird has a bright red-orange bill with a black tip. When they are born the upper and lower bill (mandible) are the same length, but after a month the lower mandible is longer. This assists with the feeding, they fly above the water with their bill in the water and snap it closed when it contacts a fish. As a beach nesting birds, they make a small scrap in the sand on the beach and nest in large colonies. Their eggs and chicks are well camouflaged with the sand, but they are susceptible to overheating, predators and drowning from high tides. You can help by avoiding marked nesting areas on beaches, so chicks and eggs are not crushed.

Where to Find

Black skimmers are found coastally from southern California south into Central America, westward to Florida and north into Maryland.

Black Vulture

Coragyps atratus
The black vulture is more compact than the turkey vulture and has a black balc head. Both species are seen together as the black vulture will follow turkey vultures to find food as turkey vultures a better sense of smell. Their primary food as scavengers is carrion (dead animals) but they will also feed on small mammals, birds and fruit. Black vultures are highly social and will interact more with fledged chicks and extended family.

Where to Find

Black vultures are found commonly on the East coast of United States from Pennsylvania south into Central and South America. They are found across the United States west into California. Black vultures forage over open country, but typically roosts and nests in forests. Black vultures forage over open country, but typically roosts and nests in forests.
Black Vultures 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. While difficult to distinguish on sight between the two species of crow, they have different calls, with fish crows saying “eh-uh”. As an opportunistic omnivore food items include berries, garbage, bird eggs, crabs can carrion. When rookies are flushed fish crows will take advantage and take eggs.

Where to Find

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

Brown Pelican

Pelecanus occidentalis
The brown pelican has been a success story. In 1970 the species was listed as endangered due to historic decrease in numbers due to plume hunters and the use of DDT. DDT weakened the strength of the shells causing parents to crush the eggs when incubating them with their feet. In 2009 they were removed from the endangered species list. Immature birds are brown with white under parts while adults have a pale yellow head and brown neck when non-breeding. In the breeding season adults get bright yellow feathers on their head and white feathers on their neck. They feed by diving into the water to stun fish on impact, referred to as plunge feeding.

Where to Find

Brown pelicans are found throughout the coastal areas of the Gulf states, the Carribean, south into central America and west into California.
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, and short tail. Frequently seen perched with wings spread outward to dry. Its feathers are unable to repel water like a duck’s and therefore are not completely waterproof. This may assist with swimming as they chase prey underwater. An expert swimmer and diver, it spends most of its time in the water pursuing fish with agility. Cormorants are large black bird with a hooked bill adapted for catching fish. During the breeding season it has an orange throat patch and tufts on either side of the head. 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 found throughout the United States. They prefer habitas near water such as coastal areas, and wooded islands in rivers, and marshes.

Eastern Screech-owl

Megascops asio
The eastern screech-owl is the smallest owl in Florida standing between 5-9 inches. They have ear tufts and come in 3 color morphs, gray, brown and red. It has yellow eyes and a pale-colored bill with streaking on the breast. While primarily nocturnal it does hunt at dusk and occasionally during the day. A generalist predator prey items include small mammals, birds, insects and tadpoles. It 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
Great Blue Herons at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve

Great Blue Heron

Ardea herodias
The great blue heron is the largest heron in North America. 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. In Southwest Florida there is a white.

Where to Find

Great Blue herons can be found seasonally throught most of the United States. They are found near fresh and salt water.

Great Egret

Ardea alba
A white bird with long neck, yellow bill and black legs, the great egret was once almost extirpated from North America by plume hunters. It is commonly mistaken with snowy egrets at a distance, however the great egret is larger, has green lores and flies with its neck retracted. 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. While females are larger than males, the males have a deeper call.  The call is the stereotypical “who” hoot associated with owls.  A range of prey items make up its diet including other owls, skunks, insects and frogs.

Where to Find

Great horned owls are found throughout most of North America. They can be found in most habitats from swamps to deserts.

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, high-pitched, chuckling call. Non-breeding adults are primarily white with a gray back. They have a black mark behind their eye and black beak. During breeding season, the head turns black with white along their eyes and the beak bright red. Diet changes depending on time of year and location but includes insects, fish, chicks and garbage. The laughing gull is very agile and can be seen feeding on a wave crest grabbing small fish.

Where to Find

The laughing gull is found year round on the coast in the Southern United States.

Least Tern

Sterna antillarum
The smallest tern in North America, 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. A threatened species, least terns nest in colonies on site-specific sandy beaches. This allows them to be close to their food, fish. During courtship displays males bring the female a fish. Nests are small scraps in the sand with well camouflaged eggs. When adults are flushed chicks and eggs are exposed to overheating and predation. To avoid this, nesting areas are blocked off.

Where to Find

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
While typically a solitary heron, little blue herons nest in rookeries with other wading birds. Little blue herons are born white, making it hard to distinguish from other species of white wading birds. Adults are slate blue with a maroon head and a black tipped blue bill. Around a year old,juveniles molt and start to grow their adult feathers which are blue and go through a period of time with both colors. The legs and feet are a dull greenish color.

Where to Find

Little blue herons are found year-round in the Southeastern United States and Central America. They have a sporadic breeding range in other parts of North America.

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. Their wing shape is ideally for life at sea. 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, and roadrunners. Yellow-billed Cuckoos are, by far, the most commonly observed cuckoo in Florida, and very easily confused with the mangrove variety. Mangrove cuckoos can be distinguished by their buffy belly, black mask, and lack of reddish color in the wings. 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.

Where to Find

Mangrove cuckoos are only found coastly in the Gulf states of the United states. In Florida they are found on the southwest coast from Tampa Bay down through the Keys. They 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. Ospreys often use channel markers in Rookery Bay as platforms for their large nests.

Where to Find

Ospreys are found on every continent except Antarctica.

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 which allows it to get into trees and eat insects. Its slow hammering and loud call may be heard throughout the woods.

Where to Find

Can be found in a variety of forests including pine flat woods, 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. While insects make up a large amount if its diet depending lon location and time of year plant matter may make up more than 50% of its diet. This could include acorns, fruits and sap.

Where to Find

Red-bellied woodpeckers are found in a variety of habitats from coastal islands yards.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Buteo lineatus
The red-shouldered hawk is found in the Eastern United States into the middle of the country and coastly in California. They forage in a variety of habitats includeing marshes and hydric pine flatwoods.

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

Platalea 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. The spoonbill is a tactile feeder and when the bill touches small fish, crustaceans and insects it snaps shut. 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. A social bird they often feed in groups and nest with other wading birds frequently on mangrove islands.

Where to Find

The roseate spoonbill is a short distance migrant found on the coast in Florida, west into Texas, the Caribbean and into south America.

Royal Tern

Thalasseus maximus
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

Found on the coast in the Pacific and Atlantic coast in the Americas, the Caribbean and western Africa. 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
This small egret is distinguished by white plumage, black legs, yellow feet, and black beak. In the late 1800’s snowy egrets were popular in the plume trade which decimated their populations. With the passing of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1912, it became illegal to possess or sell any part of a bird, and in the following decades their numbers recovered. Snowy egrets use their long legs to wade in the water and hunt fish. When nesting they form large, mixed rookeries with other wading birds such as other herons, egrets, and pelicans. During the mating season this bird develops specialized plumes that are used to attract a mate.

Where to Find

Snowy egrets are found throughout North and South America. Some populations are year-round residents and others migrate between breeding and foraging grounds.

Swallow-tailed Kite

Elanoides forficatus
The swallow-tailed kite is unmistakable: a white and black raptor with long, narrow wings and a deeply forked tail (like that of a swallow) is an iconic sign of spring in South Florida. Usually seen before heard, they are usually spotted soaring in the sky when they return in February from their wintering grounds in South America in order to breed. Swallow-tailed kites eat insects, reptiles and nesting birds they catch in the treetops. Pairs will nest near each other protecting small territories beginning in March. By July the young can fly and the annual return South begins shortly thereafter. Swallow-tailed kites will migrate in large groups.

Where to Find

Swallow-tailed kites breed in South eastern United states migrating to South America. They are found year round in Central and South America.
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
The tricolored heron typically hunts along mangroves and oyster bars, using its long, slender bill to pluck small fish from the water. 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 breed primarily on the coast in the United States and into South America. Their wintering range is much larger.

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.

Where to Find

Turkey vultures found throughout most of the United States during the breeding season and into South America. In Florida they are observed year round.
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, down curved, red bill that is used to probe the ground for food while foraging. Its diet is made up of crabs, fish, snakes, frogs and insects. In large groups white ibis prefer to forage in fresh water eight inches or less in depth. Along with other wading birds they will nest in large colonies. Where their food is collected is important for chick survival as they cannot handle large amounts of salt found in prey from marine environments. Chicks are born dark brown with a straight beak.

Where to Find

White ibis are found on the coast from Delaware into South America.

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 nest in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina in the United states, a reduced area from their historic range. They also are found on the coast from Mexico to Northern Argentina.
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.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. The majority of its diet consists of crustaceans including crabs and crayfish.

Where to Find

Yellow-crowned night herons are found through out the Eastern North America, the Caribbean, coastal Mexico, and South America.

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