To the entire Eckerd community, it is time to refresh your knowledge of the birds. Yes, those pesky, yet adorable creatures that we share our home with here at Eckerd.
Some may have found themselves frightened when they are about to hit a white ibis on their yellow bike and quickly swerve out of their way. On sleepy Sunday mornings, some have been woken up by the cute, yet ear-piercing screech of an osprey right outside their windows on a tree. Whatever your experience may be with the birds, they are definitely all around us here on campus.
Junior environmental and animal studies major Fairl Thomas appreciates the birds here on campus. She loves seeing so many that she can take pictures of, and she can see how much the birds like our campus.
“We have high biodiversity of birds in Pinellas County. I think it is because of the habitats we offer and the fact that our students understand that they are here for a reason and not to harass them,” Thomas said. “We leave them alone, we are all environmentally friendly.”
Eckerd is a unique spot for the birds in this county, and they enjoy South Beach just as much as the students do.
“They are meant to be here just like us,” Thomas said.
Professor of Environmental Science and Biology Beth Forys studies many different aspects of the birds on campus. According to one of her favorite websites, EBird, Eckerd is a hot spot in Pinellas County for the birds, with 158 species seen on our campus.
“We have some of the highest diversity of colleges our size,” Forys said. “We have a lot of different diverse habitats, our location is near Indian Key and different wildlife refuge areas. This part of Florida is on one of the main migration pathways for birds.”
It is infinitely more interesting to share a home with somebody when you know them by name. Here is a list of some of the most common birds on campus and how to tell them apart with some fun facts.
Herons and Egrets and Spoonbills, Oh My!
Often found in shallow areas hunting for fish, herons, egrets, spoonbills, and storks are known for their long legs, necks, and beaks. They will stand really still in the water until they skillfully attack their prey with their slender beaks. Herons and egrets are sometimes difficult to tell apart.
“They are pretty similar. They are related but in two different groups. In general, egrets tend to have darker legs and herons tend to have lighter legs,” Forys said.
When they fly, they almost look prehistoric with their huge bodies and wingspan. They also sometimes have little tufts of hair on the back of their head that will appear, usually when one is in conflict with the other.
Great Blue Heron
One of the largest birds we have on campus, the great blue heron, is known for its tall body and beautiful blue patterning, often times with white, yellow and gray.
A smaller heron, these birds will have at least two colors, but can look very different. Their colors are usually in some combination of gray, blue, green, yellow, and red.
Little Blue Heron
The little blue and the tricolored herons are very easy to mix up. However, the little blue heron is definitely mostly blue, and will never have the red that the tricolor has. They also have light green legs, and if it was not confusing enough they are white like snowy egrets for the first year of their lives.
Definitely one of the most colorful in this group is the green heron, yet it is not all green. Their heads are usually reddish brown with a line or two of yellow and black. Their bright yellow legs are easy to spot. Green herons are also incredibly intelligent and are known to use tools to go fishing. These herons are also relatively small.
One of the more common long-legged birds on campus, the great egret is tall and white. It has long black legs and a bright yellow to orange beak. They sometimes have a light green ring around their eyes.
Like a smaller version of the great egret, snowy egrets are easily distinguishable with their bright yellow feet and black beak. These yellow feet are also special tools since they dip them in the water to attract prey. Be careful, fishermen, these guys love to try and steal your bait.
Known for their pink color, the roseate spoonbill is a favorite around campus, and a little more rare. They are not born pink, but develop the color because of their shrimp diet, just like flamingos.
Those huge birds with the black to gray heads and long beaks are the wood storks. Also a more rare, but cool sight to see on campus. They usually like to hang out by the Wireman Chapel.
Both the wood stork and roseate spoonbill are on the federal list of endangered species, according to Forys.
The Divers that Don't Need a Tank
Some birds enjoy the water just as much as marine science students do. The following birds love to dive into the water for their prey, some more on the surface while others have special feathers that allow them to swim. They will pop back up out of the water in a completely different place.
These brown-to-black birds with orange beaks love to dive relatively deep underwater to catch fish. They swim really well for a bird, and are often seen holding their wings out in the sun to dry them off.
Often called “snake birds”, these are easy to confuse with the cormorants. Yet, like their nickname suggests, they have a much longer neck and thinner head and beak, looking more like a snake. Their bodies also sit a little further under the water. They swim for their prey and will sometimes have a lighter color on their head and neck. Anhingas will also hold their wings out in the sun to dry.
Known for their bills and long wingspan, brown pelicans fly in tight Vs all over campus. Adults have a white and yellow head, while juveniles are completely brown. Watch out, Marlin and Dory!
These ducks have an interesting story to tell, according to Forys.
“Most of those are not true mallards,” Forys said. “Tragically, we have a native species called the mottled duck and it looks like a female mallard. It’s such bad luck for them. The male mallard will mate with the female mottled and then you have this weird hybrid.”
These hybrids are not sterile, so the population continues to mate and diverges even more from the original species.
“You end up getting all of these funky looking birds. But it’s almost endangered this bird because of it. It’s a real tragedy,” Forys said.
The Loud Ones
You definitely will not miss these three birds. Their high-pitched calls echo around the Hough Quad among other areas as they talk to each other while they fly or as they struggle with a big fish in the air. Their colors are just as interesting as their calls.
Perhaps one of the more well-known birds on campus because of the research project, ospreys are common to see. Forys works with students on monitoring the nesting ospreys here.
“We have between 12 and 13 pairs try to nest here every year. That’s been pretty consistent, and they usually mostly do well,” Forys said.
There are many platforms, mostly on the baseball field for the birds to safely nest.
Ospreys are semi-migratory. Most of the ospreys north of us migrate, however those south of us do not. Our ospreys are most likely a mixture of migratory and non-migratory, according to Forys.
Although not always completely accurate, it is possible to determine the sex of an osprey by looking at the color of their feathers on their chest. Females tend to have a bib or necklace of brown feathers while males will always have a bare chest, unless they are messy eaters. Females are also significantly bigger, Forys said.
One can never forget the pair of ospreys that always attempt to nest at the top of the James Center. However, the college moved the nest over in the summer of 2018 and put up diverters so the birds would not nest and cause a mess at the entrance to the James Center.
“If ospreys are successful they almost always come back to nest. I think the diverters were successful but where they didn’t have it the birds came back. I think the long term plan is to build a nesting platform nearby, and then outside of the nesting season put the diverter up,” Forys said.
The common gallinule, once called the moorhen, sometimes fondly called the pond chicken, is almost all black except for their red beaks. It is almost impossible to describe this bird’s calls with words, but they are very distinctive and high-pitched.
These birds are often seen in the Chapel and Zeta Ponds, chirping loudly to one another.
“They usually make that noise when they are disturbed. They are a social species so maybe they are telling other species about something nearby,” Forys said.
Non-native Nanday and Monk Parakeets
Even more high-pitched piercing screeches come from the parakeets on campus.
“The parakeets are kind of obnoxious, and they’re also invasive,” Junior Fairl Thomas said.
The two species, nanday and monk parakeets, differ in the color of their heads, with the nanday having a much darker face while the monk has a lighter, mostly green face.
“The monks nest out on the ball fields, often underneath the osprey nests. The black-hooded parakeets also called nanday nest in holes and are cavity nesters, and that’s a non-native as well,” Forys said.
The Not-so-picky Eaters
These birds may have a very interesting diet, but they are still extremely important to the environment and should not be overlooked.
Flocks of white ibis dotting your lawn in Florida sometimes mean that you have a lot of bugs in your grass.
“They are generalists,” Forys said. “They will eat marine invertebrates too. They have a really broad diet. We did see one over Winter Term eating a pancake which was very strange.”
Many Eckerd students are fond of these strange looking birds, with white bodies, tall orange legs, and a rounded orange beak. Sophomore Penh Alicandro’s loves these “chickens,” as he likes to call them.
“They’re just kind of mopey looking. They’re wandering around minding their own business but then you see one that’s just kind of lonely,” Alicandro said.
These huge birds are commonly seen in our skies, or hanging out on the roof of the chapel. The turkey vultures are known for their strange red heads, with skin that looks similar to a turkey’s.
Their wingspan is incredibly wide, and if you see them circling, it most likely means there is a dead animal on the ground below. Although they have a certain stigma, vultures are incredibly important in the food chain as large decomposers.
Beyond knowing the names of Eckerd's feathered resident
Now that you know your flying neighbors by name, here are some announcements to help keep both the birds and the featherless beings of the Eckerd community safe.
According to Forys, students should not feed the birds because it is bad for their health, and makes them reliant on humans so they will just keep coming back. They should be able to catch food on their own.
Putting a tapestry, towel, or poster over your window will make birds less likely to try to fly into the glass. Forys has attempted to study the amount of birds that hit the windows, but without much luck since it is such a rare occurrence.
“We thought it was a big problem but we surveyed and on the average day, we don’t have any birds hitting windows. But, every now and then they will hit certain ones,” Forys said.
If you see an injured bird, call Campus Safety. They have a bird control protocol in place for handling injured birds. If the bird can still fly, let it be to live its life on its own.