Roseate Spoonbill thrives on the Space Coast


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Four Roseate Spoonbill birds relax at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in Titusville.

SENIOR LIFE Courtesy of Jim Eager

 

I am a backyard birdwatcher aiming to become more of a birder. A birder, according to an online dictionary, is a person who identifies and studies birds in their natural habitats.’’

Birders generally travel to specifically see birds where they live. The distinction is important to clarify from the start. According to a writer with The New Yorker, “Crudely put, bird watchers look at birds; birders look for them.”

For me, watching birds is about celebrating the huge diversity of bird life, more than 9,000 bird species, on our planet. Granted, birders are more serious than birdwatchers but, as I see it, Florida has a plethora of bird life and the Space Coast has an incredible number at 330 species.

Located on the Eastern Continental Flyway, a major bird migration corridor, our region provides prime stopover habitat for many migrating shorebirds, waterfowl, raptors and passerines. It is one of the premier birding locations on our planet, so let’s start in our own backyard.

Jim Eager overlaps his duties with the Brevard Nature Alliance and the annual Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival in Titusville with his own birding business, Obsessive Compulsive Birding.

“I guide folks that want to get out, I do central Florida all the way to the west coast. I primarily stay around east central Florida. Will go to the west coast … I enjoy getting out showing people not from this area, the different habitats.”

Eager is keen on the Life Lists birders keep.

“When I get somebody new to area, I aim for the most Life birds I can.” According to backyardnature.net, “Most serious birders compile a Life List. It’s a list of all the bird species they’ve identified with absolute certainty during their whole lifetime of serious birding.”

If you’ve ever spotted a Roseate Spoonbill, you’ll know my enthusiasm for this especially beautiful bird that Eager says is the most popular on Life Lists for Florida.

When I caught sight of my first Roseate Spoonbill, I was in awe. It was on a small canal directly on the bank across from my backyard, at the southernmost edge of Brevard County. I sat at my desk with my small but powerful Nikon binoculars and noted the beautiful dark and light pink wings and tail feathers, long reddish pink legs, white neck, and flattened bill for sluicing crustaceans, aquatic insects, frogs, newts and very small fish from the water and muck.

It swings its bill from side to side feeding as it walks through the water. It also uses the spoon-shaped bill in courtship dances to make clapping sounds.

More easily sighted at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, the lone spoonbill was a rare sight to me, many miles south of the refuge. A wading bird, it inhabits estuaries, marshes and mangrove swamps along coastal areas in the Gulf such as Texas and Louisiana. In Florida, the species is found in three locations — Florida Bay, Tampa Bay and lucky us, Brevard County. Its distinctive pink color, sometimes causing birders to mistake it for a Flamingo, grows darker as the bird ages and is caused from the algae pigments present in the food it eats. It’s a large bird, reaching a height of 2½ feet with a wingspan up to 4 feet.

Their mating season is March through June when they have their ritual courtship displays of exchange of nest material, dancing and bill clapping. To find a Roseate Spoonbill at the Merritt Island National Refuge, it is possible to observe without leaving the car along the 7-mile, one-way Blackpoint Wildlife Drive. Waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds and raptors can be seen as well. The drive time is 40 minutes. The fee per vehicle for a day pass is $10 or a yearly pass can be purchased for $25 at the Visitor Information Center.

The Visitor Information Center is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily from Nov. 1 to March 31. From April 1 through Oct. 31, the Visitor Center is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. It is closed most federal holidays. 

For information, call 321-861-0669 or contact Eager of Obsessive Compulsive Birding at obsessivecompulsivebirding.com.

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