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Monday, June 24, 2013

SW Florida Specialties: Mangrove Cuckoo, Florida Prairie Warbler, Burrowing Owl and Scrub-Jay

[SW Florida. June, 2013]

Florida is rich in several species and subspecies that are best seen here than anywhere else:
  • Mangrove Cuckoo -- a tropical cuckoo widespread in the Caribbean and Central America. Seen in the US only in Florida.
  • Florida Burrowing Owl -- the subspecies Athene cunicularia floridana is found only in Florida and the Bahamas. This is distinct from the Western Burrowing Owl subspecies (found in California, for example).
  • Florida Prairie Warbler -- the subspecies Setophaga discolor paludicola is found only in Florida and inhabits coastal mangroves unlike the migratory subspecies that prefers pine-oak fields and forests
  • Florida Scrub Jay -- of full species status -- this corvid is endemic to Florida and does not occur anywhere else in the US or, for that matter, the planet
Incidentally, the richness of Florida-specific specialties was recently highlighted in the Audubon Magazine article "The Most Endangered Bird in the Continental US" on the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow (brief background here).

A quick trip to Southwest Florida in Spring or early Summer will provide good opportunity to observe all of the above specialties.

First the cuckoo:

A medium-sized, drab colored bird works its way secretly through the mangroves. A brief pause taken between short flights reveals the Mangrove Cuckoo.

A common bird of the neotropics; in the US, it is restricted to the mangroves of Southern Florida where its numbers are thought to be declining.

Identification characteristics include a decurved black bill with a yellow lower mandible; broad black eye-stripe; grey head; pale throat and buff underparts. All of which make it easily distinguishable from either black-billed or yellow-billed cuckoos.

Mangrove Cuckoo observed at Bunche Beach Preserve, Ft. Myers, FL.

Thanks to a tip from Bob Pelkey a trip to Bunche Beach eventually resulted in a sighting of 3 individuals.

Now over to the warbler:

The Florida Prairie Warbler is a year-round resident of Florida's mangrove forests; unlike the neotropic species which comes to the US in Spring and stays through Summer.

Florida Prairie Warbler seen at Tigertail Beach, Marco Island.

A yellow warbler with a green back and distinctive black facial markings, the Prairie Warbler is an attractive songbird with an ascending buzzy zee-zee-zee-zee-zee song.

The total population of both species is 1.4 million but numbers have declined by over 40% since the '60's.

Unfortunately, like many other wood warblers, brood parasitism by the Brown-headed Cowbird is a major problem; affecting up to 25% of Prairie Warbler nests which are then abandoned by the nesting female.

Also at Marco Island, in season, the Florida Burrowing Owl is not hard to find. Eking out a perilous suburban living on home lots that await development.

A diurnal raptor, this is one owl that is active during the day; usually found perched on stakes erected in and around their burrows.

Florida Burrowing Owl seen at Marco Island, FL.

The Burrowing Owl is known to spread mammal dung around its burrow -- attracting dung beetles which are then promptly eaten.

And now for the corvid:

The Florida Scrub-Jay is a Floridian endemic that is in serious decline and classified as "Vulnerable".

Florida Scrub-Jay seen at Cape Coral, FL.

An intelligent and confiding species, its habitat of oak scrub is being lost to development and this endangered corvid's numbers continue to be under pressure.

Nothing works like a cure for the "birding summer doldrums", than a few specialty species of Southwest Florida.

Bonus bird: Common Ground Dove seen at Bunche Beach Preserve:

The common ground-dove is our smallest pigeon -- about the size of a large sparrow. Ranging from the Southern US to Northern South America, these attractive, tiny 6" doves are usually seen in pairs -- often foraging on the ground. Because of their terrestrial feeding and nesting habits, they are especially vulnerable to population loss due to predation and habitat destruction.

1 comment:

Bob Pelkey said...

Your trip to Florida was very well rewarded, Hemant. Wonderful documentation.