- Pets and Animals
Wild Florida: The Song Birds
The Beautiful Song Birds of Florida
Song birds light up our lives with their beauty and song. Florida, with it's warmth all year, is rich with birds. Exploring our preserves and back yards is an interesting and fun activity. We don't even have to walk very far from our back door. Hawks fly above us, Woodpeckers flick from tree to tree and Cardinals try to warn everyone that any one is around.
Links for references used as well as other uesful site are listed below.
Please note: The audio and video found on this page are linked files stored on another server. If the links don't work please right click and download the sound.
Watch, Listen, And Enjoy!
You never know if what you're seeing is something no one has ever seen before.
A very long time ago I and my family were watching our Purple Martins odd behavior. We had a Purple Martin house in the center of our large mowed lawn and Martins filled it every year. This year, as we watched, they were flying from the house to a nearby tree where they were landing, plucking leaves and flying back to their nests with the leaves. We never saw them do this before so didn't think they were lining their nests with the leaves. We know plants have chemicals and we guessed the birds were using the leaves to repeal pest insects. Now we hear that they've discovered birds do this.
Again, many years ago, we watched a sparrow caring for and feeding a young robin that was following it around. They use to think that just certain birds laid eggs in other birds nests. Now we hear that they are beginning to think that this happens much more frequently than believed.
You never know if what you're seeing is something no one has ever seen before. It doesn't matter if you're sitting at your back door and watching birds from your porch. It doesn't matter how much you know or how little you know. All you have to do is open your mind to the details.
Great books for Identifying Florida Birds
State Bird of Florida
Mockingbirds are about 10" in length, with a 15" wingspan, grayish upper portions, white under sides, and white patches on the tail and wings. The mockingbird is omnivorous. About half its diet consists of arthropods, including beetles, ants, bees, wasps, and grasshoppers, but it will also eat earthworms and small lizards. These aggressive feeders can often be observed chasing down a grasshopper on a lawn, running, hopping and lunging at the prey, or flying just above the ground maneuvering behind a large wasp. They are also fond of zebra butterflies, the state butterfly. Mockingbirds are monogamous, usually for the length of a breeding season, and occasionally mates for life. The average lifespan is eight years. In the spring mockingbirds perform swift, acrobatic flights, male chasing female, often accompanied by the exchange of soft "hew" calls, repeatedly perching next to each other and taking off again. They will often build several nests in low bushes between 3 and 10 feet off the ground. Mockingbirds are fiercely territorial and will attack just about anything that comes into their territory but they have also been known to recognize individual people and selectively attack some and not others. Mockingbirds have fantastic songs! They will mimic songs and parts of songs of other birds, other animals such as dogs and cats, humans, mechanical sounds, and even the sounds of other mockingbirds.
Mockingbirds can imitate about any sound imaginable, from a barking dog to squeaky hinges, to the notes from a piano to a cackling hen to even a cat meowing. What's more, their mimicry is so skilled that even electronic analysis would find it difficult to distinguish between the original sound and the impression."
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This is, of course, only one bird. All Mockingbirds have different songs. It's in the songs variety that you can identify the singer as a Mockingbird.
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If you're ever out at night, with the full moon burning bright, and you hear some crazy bird singing with all it's might....
Well, Frank L. Stanton said it best.
by Frank L. Stanton
He didn't know much music
When first he come along;
An' all the birds went wonderin'
Why he didn't sing a song.
They primed their feathers in the sun,
An' sung their sweetest notes;
An' music jest come on the run
From all their purty throats!
But still that bird was silent
In summer time an' fall;
He jest set still an' listened
An' he wouldn't sing at all!
But one night when them songsters
Was tired out an' still,
An' the wind sighed down the valley
An' went creepin' up the hill;
When the stars was all a-tremble
In the dreamin' fields o' blue,
An' the daisy in the darkness
Felt the fallin' o' the dew, -
There come a sound o' melody
No mortal ever heard,
An' all the birds seemed singin'
From the throat o' one sweet bird!
Then the other birds went playin'
In a land too fur to call;
Fer there warn't no use in stayin'
When one bird could sing fer all!
Frank L. Stanton
For 36 years Frank L. Stanton filled his "Just From Georgia" column in the Atlanta Constitution with heart, vision and a unique ability to convey a culture that slipped away. He was designated the first poet laureate of Georgia in 1925, just two years before his death. His poetry is just a down right pleasure to read.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reports that "The Common Myna is native to southeastern Asia but has been introduced onto almost every tropical or subtropical oceanic island and Australia, where it is mostly found in open country and human environments. In Florida, populations remain small and widely scattered and tend to prefer shopping mall parking lots. Mynas are omnivorous and feed on fruits, seeds, insects, and human food. They nest in tree cavities, buildings, crowns of palms, large signs, and broken lights."
I had gone to breakfast one Sunday and there were about 4 Myna Birds mixed in with the Crackles at the edge of the outdoor dining area. I had to go over and take their pictures. It was sad that no one else there noticed the beautiful bird.
Male Painted Buntings are the most spectacularly colored of all North American songbirds, with a gaudy combination of red, blue, and green feathers. This species has two distinct breeding populations in North America, but overall, it has shown a significant decline across its entire range during the past 35 years. The exact causes for Painted Bunting's decline are not known, but they are believed to include habitat loss, cowbird parasitism, and trapping for the pet trade on its wintering grounds.
An adult male Painted Bunting is arguably the most distinctive songbird in North America, with the combination of a deep blue head, red underparts, a green back, and a red rump. While not as brightly colored as males, female Painted Buntings are also distinctive. The female has an overall greenish plumage which is more darkly colored above than below.
Painted Bunting favors somewhat open areas with dense brush at all seasons. Its diet consists mostly of seeds and insects, with insects predominating during the breeding season. These birds forage mostly on the ground or in low brush. Males defend territory by singing from a high perch, often hidden among the uppermost foliage of a tree. Males, who may have more than one mate, will actually fight to hold territories; these fights are sometimes bloody and even fatal. The nest is an open, woven cup of grass, leaves, roots, and animal hair. Painted Bunting often associates with Indigo Buntings in migratory flocks, and sometimes interbreeds with that closely-related species.
The two, separate breeding populations of Painted Bunting differ in their patterns of migration and molt. The western group migrates to northwestern Mexico in late summer. There birds molt into their winter plumage before migrating south in the fall to wintering grounds in southern Mexico. The eastern group migrates directly to the wintering grounds before molting. The molt-migration pattern of the western group is very unusual among songbirds. It requires a stopover molting area which has a mild climate and plenty of food.
Red-Winged Blackbirds eat seeds and grain and as well as insects. "Although they will also nest in hay fields, swamps, and other wet upland habitats, Red-winged Blackbirds are primarily associated with freshwater marshes. Males that have successfully claimed territories mate with 2 or 3 females; in drier regions, where marsh insects may be more plentiful, the usual ratio is 3 to 6 females per territorial male. Up to 15 females have been observed on the territory of a single male, but the territory owner may not necessarily father all of the young on his territory. Females sometimes mate with several partners during a season or even during a single nesting attempt. Males don't breed until they are two years old, and they must secure and defend a territory to mate successfully." Excerpt from Red-winged Blackbird on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology web site. This is a great site for information.
The smoky haze drifting upward through the trees
proved to be fog, raising its curtain to admit the day
and although it was lighter, through my window
the sun itself could not pierce the low cloud cover
that eclipsed the tops of the snow-crowned mountains
and another day began,
caught somewhere between winter and spring
when everything is cold, damp and muddy
and the wind offers no surcease
The blackbirds and starlings that wintered-over
settled thick upon the bent and twisted
ancient blackberry canes
yet when they raised their black cloud
I saw a flash of red upon an ebon wing
he had returned; my harbinger of spring
Red Wing Black Bird Song
The Red Winged Black Birds Single Note
Blue Jay's are fairly common birds. They prefer evergreen and pine forests but can be found everywhere. They are 9 to 12 inches long. They are very aggressive and noisy birds and will drive other birds away from their territories. They will hide food for the winter. They eat fruits, nuts, seeds, insects, mice, frogs and small birds and eggs from other nests. Blue Jay populations have been declining as forests and woodlands decline. One of their main sourse of foods is the oak tree and it's decline has had an impact on them.
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Black and White Warbler
The Black and White Warbler summers in Canada and the Eastern U.S. It winters from Florida to Venezuela and Colombia. This bird is distinctive as no other black and white bird creeps along tree trunks and branches. It eats Caterpillars, adult insects, and spiders.
This is it. This is all I was able to get of the Black & White Warbler. These birds are tough. They move quickly and always manage to hide in the leaves and brush.
This bird winters in Florida so I will have to wait until cooler weather to get another shot at filming one.
Unstreaked olive above with yellow throat and breast, faint streaking below, white belly, inconspicuous eye-stripe, two white wing bars. Female similar but duller. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds.
Breeds in southern Canada, the eastern half of the United States, and in the Bahamas. In winter, their range shifts outward into the southern United States and northeastern Mexico. In Florida, Pine Warblers are common residents. Florida has 2 breeding subspecies: D. p. pinus in the Panhandle and D. p. florida in the peninsula.
We're guessing this is a Pine Warbler because of it's wing bars but at the same time it looks very much like the Palm Warbler in a dullish white phase.
All the Warblers are difficult to film as they dart in and around the underbrush. I was lucky to catch this one at the edge of the marsh.
Olive-drab, streaked, ground-feeding warbler with bright olive rump, bright yellow undertail and distinctive habit of wagging its tail. Underparts vary from yellow to dull whitish, depending on age and geography.
Winters in Florida and breeds in Canada. They are often the first birds to arrive back in Canada in the spring. It also nests on the ground which is unusual among warblers.
Yellow Rumped Warbler
Yellow Rumped Warbler's is about 5 to 6 inches long. Yellow rumped Warbler's eat beetles, insects, farvae, flies, mosquitoes, gnats, spiders and aphids. They breed in Canada, Alaska and the western US and winters in the southern US down to Central America. In winter it feeds on fruits and berries. They like berries from the wax myrtle and poison ivy plant. The Yellow Rumped Warbler is one of the most common warblers seen and is very important as it eats many harmful insects.
These birds were photographed at different dates and locations; one in the spring and one in the fall. Odd how they were both caught with their wings held down. Is this the usual way for them to perch or are they displaying that cute little rump?
Yellow Throat Warbler
This bird is a Southeastern warbler and prefers pine woodlands. It eats insects and spiders. Forages by creeping along tree branches, probing into cracks, crevices, bundles of pine needles, and Spanish moss. It is believed that this bird is expanding it's range north.
Yellow Throat Warber
This bird prefers the high tops of trees. Finding one near the ground was a treat but like all of these quick little birds it was difficult to get a good video of it as it flickered through the underbrush.
Black-Throated Blue Warbler
These birds are 5 to 5 1/2 inches. Clean-cut with upper parts blue-gray, throat and sides are black. The belly is white. They have a white wing spot that is not always visible. The Black-Throated Bue Warbler lives in the northern U.S./Canadian border from northern Minnesoda to New York and across the southern half of this range in Canada. It winters in the Gulf states and the Greater Antilles. This bird is said to the the tamest and most trusting of the warblers. If you move very slowly they may be approached to within a few feet.
A tiny, long-tailed bird of deciduous forests and scrublands, the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher makes itself known by its soft but emphatic "spee" calls and its constant motion. By flicking its white-edged tail from side to side, the gnatcatcher may scare up hiding insects. Adults are blue-grey on the upperparts with white underparts and have a long slender bill, long black tail and an angry black unibrow. They have a white eye ring. These birds migrate to the southern United States, Mexico, northern Central America-(Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras), Cuba, Bahamas, Turks and Caicos Islands, and the Cayman Islands. They forage actively in trees or shrubs, mainly eating insects, insect eggs and spiders. They may hover over foliage, or fly to catch insects in flight. The tail is often held upright while defending territory or searching for food. The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is the northernmost-occurring species of gnatcatcher, and the only truly migratory one. Most members of its genus are resident in the Neotropics. The soft, rambling song of the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher usually contains some mimicked songs of other bird species.
According to enature.com The Red-Bellied Woodpecker is "a common
woodpecker over much of the South, the Red-bellied is scarcer farther
north but has expanded its breeding range northward in recent decades.
Like most woodpeckers, it is beneficial, consuming large numbers of
wood-boring beetles as well as grasshoppers, ants, and other insect
pests. It also feeds on acorns, beechnuts, and wild fruits. It is one of
the woodpeckers that habitually stores food. I have watched these
woodpeckers obtain some food I have tossed out, fly up to a high
broken tree stump and try to fit the food into different crevices of
the dead tree.
According to The Animal Diversity Web Downy woodpeckers are smallest woodpeckers native to North America at about 6 1/2 inches long. They are found throughout North America, from southeastern Alaska east to Newfoundland, extending south to southern California and Florida. They usually do not migrate. During the winter male and female Downy Woodpeckers forage for food differently. Males tend to feed in the tops of the trees while females feed lower down in the middle and lower sections of trees. Downy Woodpeckers are often confussed with Hairy Woodpeckers. One way to tell the difference, besides the Downy being small, is that the Downy has a beak shorter than it's head whereas the Hairy Woodpeckers beak is the same length or longer than it's head.
A female Downy Woodpecker. The sound got my attention so I looked for the source and found her hiding in the leaves of the tree. A short while later she flew to a sable palm. No, my camera isn't tilted, she is.
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If you hear this sound the the Woodpecker isn't far away.
Woodpeckers "drum" on wood to announce their territory.
The speed tells you it's a smaller woodpecker. I saw this one drumming so know which woodpecker was drumming. The Pileated Woodpecker drums as well but at a much slower pace.
The Pileated Woodpecker is 15 inches large. These are large distinctive birds. The pileated woodpecker lives in Canada from British Columbia east to Nova Scotia. It can be found in most areas of the eastern United States.The pileated woodpecker eats insects, fruits and nuts. A large part of its diet is made up of carpenter ants and beetle larvae. It uses its sharp bill to pull bark off a tree to expose ant colonies. It uses its long, sticky tongue to poke into holes and drag out the ants. It also digs out large rectangular holes in trees to create roosting and nesting spots and to expose insects!
The American Redstart visits Florida as it migrates between it's South American winter ground to it's midwestern and northen summer grounds in the U.S. and Canada. It eats insects and some fruits. It'll flash it's wings and tail to startle insect prey. Like the Cardinal it's not easy to see or catch a photo of it in the thick trees. The photo we have is blured and dark but you can see this Redstart has caught a dragonfly. The Audubon Society field Guide to North American Birds says that the Redstart's song is five or six high-pitched notes or two-note phrases, ending with an upward or downward inflection. Like: "chewy-chewy-chewy, chew-chew-chew"
Black Hooded Parakeet
The Black Hooded Parakeet is an introduced bird.
They are not yet known to be breeding but will
probably be the next exotic bird species to become
widely established in Florida. This bird is native to
Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay , and Argentina. You can
find the Black Hooded Parakeet in both urban areas
and in native pinelands. They feed on palm fruits
and pine seeds and nest in tree cavities.
Boat Tailed Grackle
Males are 16" to 17" tall with females a little smaller at 12" to 13". The Common Grackle is smaller and the female lacks the paler breast. It's sound is a harsh jeeb-jeeb-jeeb without whistles and clucks. This bird was thought to be a variation of the Great-Tailed Grackle until it was discovered that they don't interbreed.
Crows are very common birds that are completely black and reach the size of 16 to 21 inches.Crows gather in large numbers in winter to sleep in communal roosts. Young crows do not breed until they are 2 years old and often not until they are 4 or more years old. They stay with the family and help raise the young that follow so a family may include several generations. They are wide spread over the US and have a breeding range covering nearly all of canada. They can be found nearly everywhere except in the very far north of canada and in the deserts of the US. Crows have been the hardest hit from the West Nile virus and their loss in some areas have been severe. They need a variety of habitats including open fields for feeding and scattered trees for roosting. They are omnivorous and eat waste grain, earthworms, insects, carrion, garbage, seeds, amphibians, reptiles, mice, fruit, bird eggs and nestlings.
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This is a favorite bird of many people and is the state bird of 7 states. Cardinals are very territorial birds. Males will fight anything that comes into it's area, including it's reflection in car mirrors and windows. Mated birds will share song phrases. Young cardinals look a lot like the female bird but have a dark bill. Cardinals are found in lightly wooded areas with open areas, such as parks. Though their number and range have increased in the last 200 years they are becoming a 'species of special concern' in California.
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The Cardinals songs vary. The one you hear will not sound exactly like this one. Cardinals, both male and female, will also make a short sharp chipping chirp when they feel that something should not be in their territory.
Here's a neat trick. You can actually call a Cardinal close to you by making a call as close to the Cardinals call as possible. Cardinals are very territorial and, as all calls are slightly different, the local Cardinal will think you're another one and come in to take a look at you.
I've called Cardinals in so my husband can shoot a photo of it. If you're patient and quiet after calling a Cardinal in the rest of the birds will start to show up.
Eurasian Collared-Dove & Mourning Dove
According to eNature.com this bird was "originally a Mideastern species, the Eurasian Collared-Dove has extended its range dramatically into western Europe since about 1930. It was inadvertently released in the Bahamas in the 1970s then spread to South Florida, probably by natural means, in the late 1970s or early 1980s. Florida birds were initially mistaken for feral populations of Ringed Turtle-Dove (S. risora), a domestic cage bird with no natural populations anywhere in the world. This mistake was soon corrected, and the species was officially recognized in the U.S. in the 1990s." It looks like this bird is fast going the way the European Starling did with way too many birds, no real predators to keep populations down and becoming a pest.
Attacting birds to your yard.
Lesser known food attractions
Birdwatchers Digest has some interesting ideas for attracting birds.
* Meat Scraps and freezer-burned meat.
* Grape Jelly: Favored by woodpeckers, orioles, tanagers, and others. Offer a spoonful in a shallow dish or jar lid.
* Eggshells: Rinse egg shells out in the sink, place them in a shallow pan and bake in the oven at 250 degrees for 20 minutes. This cleaning and baking eliminates the chance that wild birds will be exposed to harmful bacteria from domestic chickens. We crush them on the front sidewalk and the birds nibble at the pieces all winter long.
* GritGrit (small stones, sand, & eggshells) resides in birds gizzards and help to speed the processing of food. A sand pile will also attract birds for sand baths.
* Pumpkin or Melon Seeds: Dry them in the oven, and spread them out on a large platform feeder.
* Compost pile items include melon rinds and spaghetti.
In addition to Birdwatchers Digests suggestions I have also used dog food. The birds pick up the food, fly to the birdbath, drop the dog food in the water and wait for it to crumble and float. They eat this like it's a buffet.
Another tip from Birdwatchers Digest:
Don't feed birds lots of stale bread. The birds may seem to love your stale bread, but bread to a hungry bird is like popcorn is to a hungry human: Lots of filler, but no real nutritional value. Bread also attracts mostly starlings and house sparrows. Solution: Offer apples, oranges, meat scraps, rendered suet, mealworms, or other nutritional foods instead.
Great On Line Resources
- Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center information on Birds, Species Maps, Song clips & photo_htms
AvianWeb: The Avianweb provides info on pet bird care, as well as alternative and complementary medicine (for humans and pets), nutritional therapies, environmental protection and green living.
- You Florida Backyard
How to make your property more wildlife-friendly, information on native Florida plantlife and wildlife, gardening with Florida's native plants, butterfly gardening, bird gardening, and wildlife gardening.
- eNature - Birds
eNature Field Guide to Birds -- Comprehensive guide to America's birds with species pictures, field descriptions, range maps, bird calls, habitat information and more.
Kaytee's presentation on feeding backyard birds
- American Birding Association
A comprehensive guide and resource for birding.
- What Bird.com
Mitchell Waite has created a great website for identifying birds. Loaded with content and extremely helpful in identifying birds when you don't know how to start this site will have you exploring for hours.
Did you enjoy this article? Do you have any questions, ideas or suggestions? Let us hear about your birding adventures!