“You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares –
So go downtown” (Tony Hatch, sung by Petula Clark)
In America, we enjoy two types of migration each year. Birds travel thousands of miles south to escape severe winters which they could not survive. Here in Florida, we have an opportunity to observe birds we would not otherwise be able to see without traveling to their breeding areas. Most migrants fly to Central and South America for the winter but a few remain in our area all winter.
The second type of migration involves what have become endearingly known as “snow birds”. Although they do not sport feathers and may not face actual extinction if they remained in their northerly abodes, we welcome them each year just as warmly as we do our avian guests. Some have even evolved over time and adapted to our summer heat and humidity and have not returned to their ancestral breeding territory. I have not been able to locate a decent field guide for identifying individual snow birds and must rely on attempting to catch them in their traveling apparatuses which are conveniently marked with their geographic origin.
Winter visitors as well as year ’round residents enjoy our downtown area. It offers unique architecture, diverse dining, an open market, art venues, parks and lakes. The officials of our fair city, in their infinite wisdom and never-ending search for methods to lure folks to local businesses, have purchased exotic waterfowl over the years to populate a couple of downtown lakes. Because Florida doesn’t have enough attractive native waterfowl of its own for folks to enjoy dont’cha know. Sigh.
Most bodies of water will encourage a variety of wildlife to visit, even if the lake is located in a bustling city’s downtown business district. And once the critters discover the two-legged animals are quick and generous with tossing them stale bread and bits of hamburger bun, well, that’s a hard thing to keep secret in the animal world! As a result, our downtown lakes are usually very active with waterfowl of all types. In the winter, several hundred ducks enjoy the shallow water, warm weather, the company of other birds and the aforementioned abundance of free food. It also doesn’t hurt that the city keeps the lakes cleared of alligators and other would-be predators.
This past winter, we had a couple of visitors which, although not rare, are not seen every year. The diminutive Bufflehead can look quite small next to a resident Mute Swan, but three females evidently felt secure all winter. The much larger Redhead quickly learned successful panhandling techniques and also remained with us all season. The usual large numbers of Ring-necked and Ruddy Ducks were represented and most have now departed northward to make more ducks.
Our snow bird population has also diminished but we know they, too, will return come fall. Snow to shovel and ice to scrape – or a bit of sun and moisturizing humidity? No contest.
The Redhead surely is one of the most handsome ducks I’ve ever seen. In the right light, it’s easy to see how it came by its name.
I still have not been able to produce a decent photograph of a male Bufflehead, but the ladies are quite beautiful and I was happy to see them.
You can be forgiven for calling the Ring-necked Duck a Ring-billed Duck (as I have done) because the ring around its neck is not nearly as obvious as the one around the bill.
A stiff, fan-shaped tail makes it easy to identify the small Ruddy Duck. Soon the males’ bodies will turn deep chestnut and their bills bright blue as they change to breeding plumage.
Our locally abundant White Pelicans like to roost along the walls around the lake. In the background, a Mute Swan looks longingly at the pelicans, wishing she could be as lovely.
Now that Spring is here, we’re trying to run around and locate migrating warblers, returning Swallow-tailed Kites, nesting Crested Caracara and such things. But we know that when the snow birds begin to fill the hotels again in November, it will be time to make another trip -downtown.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!