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It’s in your nature: Two unusual Florida birds

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    A very effectively adapted anhinga crawls onto a pier foundation with a speckled sea trout impaled in its bill. In less than a moment, the anhinga deftly repositioned and swallowed the fish headfirst. BARRY REED/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS

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    Note the bulge in the crop of the anhinga as well as its “super” webbed feet, making it such a good swimmer.

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    An anhinga climbs into the sunlight to dry its waterlogged feathers. Note how “soaked” the feathers appear. Hours later it can soar to great heights again.

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    A limpkin is a rather unusual-looking bird, but its long legs and curved bill are effective adaptations to capturing apple snails.

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    In water, it’s obvious why the limpkin has these adaptations.

Published December 14. 2019 06:38AM

 

Maybe a few readers will be preparing for a getaway to Florida and warmer temperatures. Besides the great assortment of theme parks and venues, the state does offer some wildlife “spotting” opportunities. A drive into/through a theme park via car, bus or “monorail” will afford you a chance to see snowy or cattle egrets feeding in the fields or parks, or black and turkey vultures soaring overhead. While walking near a walkway or lot, ground doves (mourning dove cousins) may explode from near your feet. Meanwhile fish crows and common crows may be searching high and low for natural foods or morsels dropped from youngsters’ grips.

But if you look carefully at some of the canals or ponds, you may see two of Florida’s unusual birds. These are anhingas and limpkins. The latter’s home is almost exclusively Florida.

Fish-eating birds use a variety of methods and adaptations to catch their finned food. Ospreys, for example, dive feet first into the water to grab fish with their razor-sharp talons. Sometimes almost completely submerged mergansers (types of fish-eating ducks) swim underwater and grab a fish with their “tooth” lined beaks.

Bald eagles use their amazing talons to grab a fish from just under the water’s surface. But anhingas, also called snake birds, dive into the water, swim after fish and then spear them with their very sharp and special bills. They then proceed to swallow the fish whole, headfirst. Anhingas, when surfacing to breathe, hold their skinny head and neck above water, hence the nickname snake bird.

Anhingas prefer swamps with numerous trees, mangrove areas or other bodies of water with a slow current. They reach about 35 inches in size, mostly black, with a long neck and webbed feet. What may identify them best is their resting posture. After spearing their prey, they often climb out on a stump or low tree where they spread their wings and face their backs into the sun. They are drying their feathers.

Unlike ducks, which oil their feathers to repel water, anhingas’ feathers are not oily. This soaking keeps the feathers from holding air bubbles, allowing them to remain under water easier and longer. Surprisingly, when dry, the anhingas are quite capable of flight and sometimes soar as high as some vultures.

Limpkins are odd-looking birds, somewhat emu-like, having small heads, a specialized, long, down-curled bill and rather long legs. Limpkins are about 26 inches in size. They are uncommon and rather localized.

The ones that I have seen have allowed me to approach fairly close. Their numbers appear to be holding steady, but managing the waterways in Florida is imperative to their survival. Their chief food is the apple snail which makes up almost all their diet. The snails live in canals, ponds and sluggish streams.

As expected, loss of their favored swampy habitats has limited them. Conservation efforts have appeared to help their population relatively stable. Limpkins can also be found in coastal Central America. Keep your eyes peeled even while vacationing. Wildlife can be found at your vacation spots as well.

Test Your Outdoor Knowledge: Which of these may nest from spring through autumn? A. screech owl, B. barn owl, C. great horned owl, D. barn swallow.

Last week’s trivia answer: A larch tree is also called a tamarack.

Contact Barry Reed at breed71@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

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