[Tweeters] Florida - land of the future

Dennis Paulson dennispaulson at comcast.net
Fri Dec 21 13:24:11 PST 2007

Hello, tweeters.

I just returned from a week in southern Florida. Good birding, really
fine warm sunshine, lots of dragonflies and other critters, great
trip overall.

But I did get some insights into the future, more valuable (if
depressing) to me than knowing who's going to win the Super Bowl.

We got into Fort Lauderdale late at night, then headed out from there
south to the Keys the next morning. Driving from our motel to get to
the freeway south, I was impressed by the numbers of birds along the
road. What were they? Huge numbers - hundreds - of Rock Pigeons,
Eurasian Collared-Doves, Mourning Doves, Boat-tailed Grackles, and
European Starlings. Notice that 3 of these 5 are non-native. In the
midst of this, there was a flock of over 20 Monk Parakeets coming in
to bird feeders in a trailer park. I just had to shake my head,
remembering what I had posted about a future of successful species,
most of them non-native.

I should add that as you drive to the Keys, you pass wetlands with
herons and egrets and ibises, Ospreys everywhere, plenty of native
birds to be seen as soon as you get away from the human landscape.

The Florida Keys were instructive. The most common land birds down
there were, again, Rock Pigeons, Eurasian Collared-Doves, and
European Starlings. No boat-tails and relatively few Mourning Doves
in the Keys. Common Ground-Doves, another member of this successful
family, seem to have declined greatly since I lived in Florida 50
years ago. Most common water birds Laughing Gulls, another human
commensal. Interestingly, White Ibises seem to be very comfortable
with people and quite adaptable, so they'll be with us in the future.
We saw them feeding at open dumpsters with Black Vultures, Cattle
Egrets, and Boat-tailed Grackles.

In the megalopolis on the west coast, from Naples to Fort Myers,
again the same species were the most common (didn't see any more Monk
Parakeets), with the addition of Fish Crows. Fish Crows down there
are comparable to our crows around here, abundant in the cities (they
didn't even occur that far south when I lived down there!) and
collecting in huge roosts. There were never crows in the Keys, but a
few Fish Crows have made their way all the way down to Key West now.

I don't know what all the pigeons and collared-doves are feeding on.
There must be an awful lot of seeds down there, but I don't think
they're all at bird feeders. The Rock Pigeons nest under the bridges
along the Keys now, at least I assume they do, as there were flock
after flock of them perched on the wires above those bridges. This
wasn't the case when I lived down there. I think Rock PIgeons more
and more are adapting to country life, as long as they have "cliff
ledges" (bridges, highway overpasses, etc.) on which to nest. I
should add that I estimated 1,000 Double-crested Cormorants roosting
on the wires in our afternoon drive back up the Keys. This is a very
successful native species (more and more I see birds as "birds of the
future" or not).

The Keys are bereft of native land birds, in comparison with a half-
century ago. Cardinals were common then; we didn't see any on this
trip, although I'm sure there must be some. A variety of warblers
could always be seen in winter years ago, but we had to be happy with
a few Palms and a redstart on this trip. The habitats are still great
down there, especially on Key Largo, where it is gratifying to see
how much tropical woodland has been preserved, but birds were scarce
to absent anywhere in that habitat.

Hawks were more common on the Keys than they used to be. American
Kestrels were more common there than anywhere else we went (north to
Sanibel), I suspect because of the abundance of Brown Anoles in the
Keys. This introduced lizard was very local when I lived down there,
just around Miami and Key West, but they are everywhere in the
Florida Peninsula now, far more abundant than all the rest of the
lizards put together, and you have to work to see any of the other
lizard species. It seems likely to me that they are outcompeting the
native lizard species, and I wonder how many insects Brown Anoles are
eating that might have gone to small insectivorous birds (or

We saw 3 Cooper's Hawks in the Lower Keys, I thought a surprising
number, but then I realized that their food had also increased
tremendously. I saw one carrying a collared-dove (in fact, it flew
right by me and dropped the dove at my feet when surprised to see me
standing there) and another chasing one right down the main US
highway on one of the small keys. There are enough doves and pigeons
down there to feed most of the bird-eating raptors in Florida!

If you fancy fish, south Florida is the place for you. In the canals
just about anywhere, there are as many or more introduced as native
species, especially cichlids of all kinds. It's an aquarist's dream,
but no one has figured out how to get the fish back in the aquaria.
Some of them are herbivores, some effective predators. I don't know
if people are studying their ecological effects, but I hope so.

Red-eared Sliders were in the ponds in the Lower Keys, just as they
are in Lake Washington. They are native to south-central US, but the
pet trade has spread them everywhere. In the Everglades and north,
native turtles are still very common, but alligators are incredibly
abundant, and I wonder how anything survives in the alligator holes
and canals where 6-8' individuals are everywhere you look. I wonder
about small turtles in particular (just about all we saw were very
large adults). I suspect the abundance of alligators may explain why
we saw no gallinules, moorhens, or coots at Everglades NP's famous
Anhinga Trail, and all of the wading birds were up on the road, on
boardwalks, or in very shallow weedy areas. When I was a kid there, I
wouldn't hesitate to go wading or swimming anywhere. Now I would
advise against it.

It's still a wonderful place for birding, as the long-legged waders
are widespread and mostly common and seemingly tamer than they were
in my childhood. I think selection for tameness is one of the big
selective pressures on animals to survive in the human milieu.
Especially in the Big Cypress area, there are still miles of roads
and trails through relatively pristine (except for the invasive
species) habitats, and you can get away from the horrible sprawling
developments that dominate the coastal areas and the northern
interior. If you go to the right places, it's a birder's paradise,
and something of a time machine.
Dennis Paulson
1724 NE 98 St.
Seattle, WA 98115
dennispaulson at comcast.net

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