A project is currently under way in Florida to survey the bird species which breed within the state. Random sampling of specific sections of the state will be conducted over a five year period and the data will be compared with the previous atlas project performed 25 years ago. Hopefully, the information will allow better management of resources to ensure the best health possible for our state’s diverse avian population.
The actual surveys are being done primarily by volunteers under the leadership of experienced birders. It’s a bit different than how a typical birder approaches things. We are usually more attuned to looking for as many different species as possible (and we really like migrants!) and/or counting how many birds of a specific species we observe (such as during a Christmas count). For the purpose of the breeding atlas, we only note which birds we see that are native to the state and attempt to determine if any breeding-related activity is taking place (e.g., courtship display, nest building, eggs in a nest). Once a species is confirmed as breeding, it won’t be counted again for the five year period of the atlas project.
Volunteer observers are asked to spend only what time they can and are assigned a “block” usually close to where the observer lives. The time commitment is actually minimal and it’s a great way to learn more about the birds and their natural history. If you would like more information about becoming an observer, see “Additional Resources” below for a link.
So far, I’ve had a lot of fun getting out and learning more about bird behavior. Who knew a Red-headed Woodpecker would eat other birds? Or that the Great Crested Flycatcher often lines the nest with a snake skin?
Here are a few images of our recent adventures in atlasing.
The Burrowing Owl is classified as a “species of special concern” in Florida and is protected by law. Although it has declined in some areas due primarily to habitat loss, it has gained in other areas due to construction of airports and even golf courses. They require quite a bit of open space and short vegetation to watch for predators. These little owls will dig their own burrows but also use gopher tortoise burrows.
Eastern Bluebirds brighten up the countryside and efforts to erect nesting boxes have been quite successful in contributing to their breeding.
Many woodpeckers have experienced a drop in population due to habitat destruction. The Red-bellied Woodpecker has been an exception, adapting to residential neighborhoods and city parks quite well. This pair was busy sampling potential nesting holes in several dead pine trees. The Mrs. climbed in, looked around and off they flew to the next tree.
Speaking of adapting, the Red-winged Blackbird has been astoundingly successful at having mankind as a neighbor. It’s hard to imagine being outdoors without hearing their voices.
If you need to know why birds preen, check out this Green Heron. He needs a lint brush for his birthday.
American Kestrels migrate through the state during winter and many remain here until spring. The Southeastern American Kestrel (Falco sparverius paulus), remains in Florida year around. They typically mate from May to September.
It seems that in the spring, there isn’t a fence post or stump that doesn’t have a singing Eastern Meadowlark on it. This one was quietly sneaking through the grass hoping to lead me away from a nest. They’re as beautiful on the ground as on a perch.
The neat thing about birding is encountering the unexpected. I don’t know who was more surprised – me or this raccoon!
One of the woodpeckers which has not been able to adapt to loss of habitat is the Red-headed Woodpecker. Their numbers have been declining at an alarming rate nationwide and even more so in Florida. We were happy to find a pair busy looking for a nest site and look forward to keeping tabs on their breeding progress.
Swallow-tailed Kites migrate each winter to South and Central America. It’s good to see them again soaring over the rivers, lakes and citrus groves.
The large Sandhill Crane gets its chicks walking pretty soon after hatching and the young can feed themselves within a day. The chicks are colored differently than the parents and it’s easy to see why. They match their typical habitat. See for yourself.
In open pasture land, there may not be many trees. This Black Vulture had to learn to balance on a utility wire as his talons aren’t really made for grasping.
One certain sign of spring is a turkey gobbler displaying for a group of hens. Sorry for the poor photograph but he was some distance away. Still pretty impressive.
Our Red-shouldered Hawk is another species which has adapted to mankind’s intrusion. The population appears to be in excellent condition.
This Loggerhead Shrike took his prey back to a barbed wire fence where he impaled it and ate it a bit at the time. His nickname of “Butcher Bird” appears apt.
A clear whistle from an oak tree alerted me to the presence of a Great Crested Flycatcher. I watched as he joined his mate atop a very tall metal utility pole. As he stood guard, she entered a hole in the pole several times. She was actively catching insects and returning to the cavity, so there may be young ones in the nest.
Although not “countable” for the breeding bird atlas, it was interesting to come across a small flock of migratory Bobolinks. This was a life bird for us! They blended well with the stalks of grain.
Since we started with an owl, it’s only fitting we conclude with one, too. The Barred Owl loves dark, wet places. There were two in this tree and one flew as I approached. This one remained as I snapped a few images and I left as quietly as possible.
I recently heard the Breeding Bird Atlas project described as “birding with a purpose”. We hope the information gleaned from the effort will help our grandchildren enjoy the natural world as much as we do.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!
Linking to Stewart’s “Wild Bird Wednesday”. See more birds from around the world at Paying ReadyAttention for
Linking to “The Bird D’pot” for even more birds.