Breeding Bird Atlas

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.

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl

Eastern Bluebirds brighten up the countryside and efforts to erect nesting boxes have been quite successful in contributing to their breeding.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

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.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

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.

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

If you need to know why birds preen, check out this Green Heron.  He needs a lint brush for his birthday.

Green Heron

Green Heron

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.

Southeastern American Kestrel

Southeastern American Kestrel

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.

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

The neat thing about birding is encountering the unexpected.  I don’t know who was more surprised – me or this raccoon!

Raccoon

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.

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

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.

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

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.

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

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.

Black Vulture

Black Vulture

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.

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

Our Red-shouldered Hawk is another species which has adapted to mankind’s intrusion.  The population appears to be in excellent condition.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

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.

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

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.

Great Crested Flycatcher

Great Crested Flycatcher

Great Crested Flycatcher

Great Crested Flycatcher

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.

Bobolink

Bobolink

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.

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

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!

Additional Resources:

Florida Breeding Bird Atlas 1 (1986-1991)

Contact if interested in volunteering.

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.

 

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 48 Comments

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48 thoughts on “Breeding Bird Atlas

  1. A lint brush for his birthday…you crack me up! The young sandhill crane does blend in with its surroundings. You have such a great variety of birds, always amazes me! Thanks for taking part in protecting your local birds.

    • We are definitely blessed with a wonderful variety of life to enjoy. The atlas project has been really educational a lot of fun!

  2. Cracking shots Wally. The Burrowing Owl is so much like our Little Owl except yours clearly has longer legs – all the better for burrowing! I’d love to reaquaint with the sounds of Red-winged Blackbirds too, a quite unique set of calls and notes. Looks like you finally got the Kestrel shot you have been after with the little stunner you found on the overhead wire. Good to see you encouraging folk to get involved with “Citizen Science” -much better than just listing and “twitching” in my humble opinion.

    • Welcome home, Phil! Thanks so much for the nice remarks. I like the catch-phrase the atlas project uses: “birding with a purpose”. Hopefully, the data will help for the future. I’m afraid that Kestrel shot was highly cropped, so I’m still after a better opportunity. The good news is that particular bird and a mate were checking out a nesting site, so hopefully we’ll find little Kestrels soon!

      Have a great weekend – hope you didn’t get too sunburned! 🙂

  3. Your “birding with a purpose” is great. When we don’t know what we have we don’t know how to look after it – or at least that’s what I tell friends who want to know why I count shorebirds every month! You saw a great lot of birds but IMO the burrowing owls are the cutest!

    • Mick, thanks for a really nice comment! I agree, the Burrowing Owls are special! I’m on the hunt for more nesting sites.

  4. Fabulous pictures and a great instruction manual for this amateur Florida birder. I bookmarked this page. I saw at least two red-headeds in our RV Park last week…didn’t realize how rare they were. I have a post (with my usual amateur photos) for Wednesday.

  5. That’s a great (and diverse) collection of birds, Wally. The Breeding Bird Atlas sounds like a worth-while project for birds – I hope it’s successful and eventually has some positive impacts on bird populations. Have fun while you’re doing it!

  6. Oh, I totally understand about the Bobolinks. We saw one ‘rouge’ in our area, and they’re not even supposed to be here this far into Texas. It was a thrill.

    LOVED all your birds. [That green heron actually moved? I only see them stiff as a board in a tree perch]

  7. Thanks for sharing this wonderful bird species.
    The pictures are all great.
    Best wishes, Irma

  8. Greting from sunny Spain Wally. I will catch up with you and those colourful Florida birds soon.

  9. Wow Wow Wow!!! How exciting…!! I wasn’t aware of this project, and you KNOW I adore our native birds! 🙂 I’m not out as much as you probably are – and I’m not a birder by ANY means – but I’m still going to be checking out the link. Anything I can do to help! Thanks so very much for such a beautiful and thoroughly educational post. FANTASTIC!

    • By all means at least check into it. There are many levels of involvement and what a great way to team up with someone who can help you learn more about our wonderful feathered residents! That’s what I’m doing and have already learned a lot! Good luck!

  10. mtwaggin

    Wow! Such a wonderful variety of fabulous shots! I do enjoy learning about them too! Can’t even pick a favorite – oh okay the green heron! LOL

    • The good news is, you don’t have to pick a favorite! Just enjoy them all!
      Thank you so much for visiting!

  11. Beautiful photos, I really like the Green Heron photo! It would be so much fun to be part of a breeding bird atlas survey.

    • Thank you very much! You might check with your local bird club or look up what has been done in the past. I believe Alberta has published two breeding atlases over the past few years.

  12. Lovely series of shots, I don’t see owls around here But hear them once in a blue moon. Great photography have a lovely day.

  13. Lovely photos!

  14. I just love seeing pictures of owls. They fascinate me. I always wonder…did you see one turn its head around? That would be so cool. Your varied woodpecker shots are awesome. I love the ones we have here at the house. A wonderful post. genie

    • Genie, thank you for visiting and for your nice comments!

      Yes, the owls turned their heads often while we were watching, and as you can see from the pictures, they were constantly looking up for hawks. Owls have twice as many neck vertebrae as humans which allows them to turn their heads up to 270 degrees in either direction. Good thing, too, since they have fixed eyeballs and can’t look from side to side without turning their head!

  15. Wonderful set of photos and information.

  16. Beautiful photos and interesting info.

  17. What a wonderful serie of great bird photos! And i do like your text, i learn much from you today by reading your blog. My favorite was the Green Heron, what a magnificent bird . We don´t have anything like that here in Sweden .
    And the red-winged Blackbird was a beauty to as well as the Raccoon , even though he´s not a bird 😉 // Maria

    • Maria, thank you very much for visiting us! We really appreciate your nice comments and are happy to share our birds and wildlife with you! We hope you have a good weekend!

  18. Thanks for sharing all these interesting bits of information you’ve learned about our wonderful Florida birds! Lucky you for seeing the Bobolinks! Love your Burrowing Owl photos as well!

  19. Anonymous

    Awesome post! I love the owls.

  20. Florice

    Do Gila Woodpeckers count as red-headed woodpeckers? I have lots of those in my yard.

    • HELLO SISTER OUT WEST!

      The Gila is in the same scientific family (Melanerpes) as the Red-headed Woodpecker but more closely resembles the Golden-fronted (mostly in Texas) and Red-bellied Woodpeckers. Red-headed Woodpeckers aren’t seen very often in your area as they (and the Red-bellied) tend to live in the mid-west and east part of the country.
      Talk to you soon.

      WE LOVE YOU!

  21. I really loved and appreciated the amazing photos and the great background information.

  22. My goodness, you have been busy! I’m so jealous of the meadowlark and the little owl. Several bobolinks were spotted about 7 miles from my house. When I went to look I didn’t see them, but ended up photographing Egyptian geese of all things! Will be posting those later next week. 🙂 Gorgeous photography and great information to go along with it.

    • Egyptian Geese! Whoa! I look forward to seeing that! We appreciate your visit and all the nice comments. It means a lot.

  23. I love the little burrowing owl, too. Happy to say we have lots of woodpeckers here, both red-bellied and red headed. Fascinating description of the bird atlas project. Also — that shrike photo is awesome.

    • Thanks, Little Sister! I remember the time Red-headed Woodpeckers were common all around town. No more. 😦

      It’s been fun surveying the birds and learning more of their natural history. Talk to you soon.

  24. awesome set, again! love the burrowing owl. haven’t seen a red-headed or a bob-o-link since i left wisconsin.

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