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10 popular birds

6. Eastern brown pelican

Pelecanus occidentalis carolinensis

Also listed by FWC as a "species of special concern." … The smallest pelican species and the only pelican that plunge-dives for food. … Captures small fish by diving into schools, trapping fish in the expandable pouch. Pouch muscles then squeeze out the water. … Nests on tree islands, in colonies with other birds. … Courtship includes nest-building of a broad, shallow stick platform about 2 feet wide lined with grass. … The main cause of mortality is entanglement in fishing line, about 500 to 600 birds statewide yearly.

7. Great egret

Ardea alba

Large white heron with yellow beak and black legs and feet, and long lacy breeding plumes. … Solitary hunters stalk wetland prey with outstretched necks. Diet includes fish, reptiles, amphibians, small mammals, birds, mollusks and insects. … About 1,400 nesting pairs regionally. Nests and roosts in groups on tree islands. Nests are flimsy stick platforms in trees. … Also hunted to near extinction during the late 1800s to mid 1930s for their plumes to decorate ladies' hats.

8. Least tern

Sterna antillarum

Listed by FWC as "threatened" because of impact of beachgoers on nesting colonies. … The smallest American tern, it is white and gray, with a distinctive black cap, a white chevron over the eyes, and yellow beaks. They are quick flyers with a wingspan 20 inches and a forked tail. … Dives into schools of small fish near the surface. … By September the entire population migrates to South America for the winter. Breeding least terns return to Tampa Bay by early May. … In Florida, 80 percent nest on gravel rooftops near the coast.

9. American oystercatcher

Haematopus palliatus

Listed by FWC as a "species of special concern" due to low population (400 pairs in Florida) and low survival of young. … A large black/brown-backed and white-bellied shorebird with a heavy orange-red bill and pink legs. Coastal only, from New York to Central America. … Eats clams, oysters, marine worms, crustaceans, small fish, insects and invertebrates. … Faithful to their nesting territories along shorelines of beaches and spoil islands.

10. Roseate spoonbill

Platalea ajaja

Listed by FWC as a "species of special concern." … Long-legged wader with 4-foot wingspan. Adults are rosy-pink with red upper wings. The broad spoonbill is greenish. … Eats fish, shrimp, crayfish, and invertebrates caught in shallow water by swinging the open bill side-to-side. … About 1,000 pairs in Florida. … Hunted to near extinction for wings sold as fans to tourists. By 1934, there was only one colony of 15 pairs in Florida Bay. … In Florida, the Tampa Bay population is the largest, with 440 pairs at five islands, most at the Alafia Bank Bird Sanctuary. … Audubon of Florida is conducting a banding study of spoonbills in Florida Bay (using black bands) and Tampa Bay (red bands). Report sightings of banded spoonbills to

Fast facts

Reddish egrets and Audubon

The reddish egret is the rarest heron in North America, with only 2,000 breeding pairs in the nation, 400 of which can be found in Florida. Prized for their plumes a century ago, reddish egrets were nearly extinct in Florida by about 1910.

Opposition to the "plume trade" led to the rise of the National Audubon Society and passage of the first wildlife protection laws in Florida. In the 1940s, reddish egret nesting was rediscovered in Florida Bay, and, gradually, the birds moved north. Today, these birds nest at about a dozen sites in Tampa Bay, Sarasota Bay, Boca Ciega Bay and Clearwater Harbor.

Other information

Great Florida Birding Trail: With 489 sites throughout Florida, this trail will keep you busy for years to come. To learn more about the 2,000-mile, self-guided highway trail, go

Wings over Florida: This free awards program is open to resident and nonresident birdwatchers. The idea is to identify as many native birds as you can, and as your skills improve and your bird list grows, you can apply for increasing levels of achievement. The full-color certificates are awarded at five levels starting at a life list of 50 Florida species (beginner) and ending at 350 species (Elite Florida Birder). For information, go to

Terry Tomalin, Times Outdoors Editor

10 popular birds 02/05/09 [Last modified: Friday, February 6, 2009 11:35am]
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