For the Birds Radio Program: Florida Birds

Original Air Date: Dec. 19, 1988

Laura Erickson took a vacation to Florida last month. Today she talks about the birdlife she found there.

Duration: 4′12″


(Recording of an Anhinga)

Last month my family was in Florida for a week, and I had a first hand opportunity to discover what it is about the southland that lures midwesterners down to the land of drug runners and violent crime every winter.

Florida is a whole new world after spending a lifetime in the midwest. Up here Great Blue and Green-backed Herons are common enough, and once you get close to the Twin Cities there are plenty of egrets along the highway, at least in the summer. But these species and other even more exotic waders aren’t merely common in Florida–they’re downright abundant. And that’s in the dead of winter, during the Everglades’ dry season. Besides our familiar Northland waders, Florida has White and Glossy Ibises; Snowy, Reddish, and Cattle Egrets; and Little Blue and Tricolored Herons. And then there’s the Roseate Spoonbill–a bizarrely beautiful creature, and the Anhinga–also known as the snakebird for the way its skinny head and neck emerge from the water while swimming. Stands of trees throughout Florida are dotted with these enormous wading birds–like so many oversized Christmas tree ornaments.

There are old friends in Florida, too. After growing up in Chicago it’s always nice to see cardinals. And one of my favorite birds, the Tufted Titmouse, is down there, too–at least in northern and central Florida. Dainty Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are ubiquitous in the Everglades, and two of them even alerted me to my most exciting find of the trip–a Mangrove Cuckoo lurking in heavy growth along the Snake Bight Trail. Then there are the wintering warblers–Yellow-rumps and Palm Warblers are everywhere, greeting me with their cheerful chips and arousing my curiosity about whether I counted any of these individuals over the Lakewood Pumping Station this fall.

All in all I added an even dozen species to my life list on this trip–from the Gannets diving for fish off Cocoa Beach to a Snail Kite searching for apple snails not far from the Anhinga Trail. I could have added another eight or ten if I’d cruised the streets of Miami–a lot of the Miami parks have exotic cage birds such as budgies and cockatiels, which the American Birding Association allows you to count as long as a breeding population has been established for at least 10 years. But somehow to face Miami after a few days in the Everglades–oh–what a falling off would be there.

Yes, the Everglades is a winter wonderland for a birder, but the whole time I was there I felt a growing uneasiness. The mushrooming human growth and development are devastating the natural beauty of this precious land. Once you get down to Lake Okeechobee, which the Everglades encompassed only a few decades ago, the roads all follow channels of water being diverted from the thirsty Everglades to the swimming pools of Miami people. People flock to Florida supposedly for the weather, but the only way they apparently can survive the weather down there is in swimming pools. People crowd out the shoreline with condos and motels, edging out shorebirds and sea turtles, and yet they don’t love the sea so much as they love an illusion of oceanfront living–they even build their pools right at the ocean’s edge without sensing any irony at all. This precious water, squandered in so frivolous a way, is thus denied to the Everglades, an ecosystem unique on this planet, yet shrinking daily. No, the natural attractions of Florida are beyond compare, but I hope I always live in a state where people hold their treasures dear. Like Dorothy said to Toto, “There’s no place like home.”

(Recording of a Anhinga)

This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”