As you move along the bayfront, you will see and hear a variety of birds. To learn how to watch birds, be sure to look at this website. You may hear the Florida state bird, the mockingbird, in upland areas near shore. Most common along the shore are the brown pelicans (Pelicanus occidentalis), osprey (Pandion haliaetus), Caspian tern (Sterna caspia), Sandwich tern (Sterna sandvicensis), sanderlings (Calidris alba), white ibis (Eudocimus albus), snowy egret (Egretta thula has black legs and yellow feet), great egret (Ardea alba), red tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), [teacher note: This might be an interesting place to include information about Seminoles and their relation with various animals. double crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), herring gulls (Larus argentatus has long pink legs), laughing gulls (Larus atricilla has black legs), ring billed gulls (Larus delawarensis has yellow legs), great blue heron (Ardea herodias), black-crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), yellow-crowned night heron (Nyctanassa violacea) little blue heron (Egretta caerulea), and green heron (Butorides virescens). [teacher note: you can find reproducible pictures of some Florida birds and you can find recordings of bird sounds as well as pictures online here. Are these birds feeding or wading? Do you notice them individually, in groups of the same types of birds, in mixed groups? Brown pelicans have excellent eyesight for finding prey and lots of different feeding behaviors. Watch them when they are diving for fish versus when they are catching fish while swimming along the surface. When diving, they will typically rise above the water and plunge downward, beak first, settling on the surface to strain water from their prey. Generally, you will see groups of birds diving together. Humans can have a large impact on the pelicans. Do not feed these animals or any seabird. If you are fishing and get a pelican on your line, DO NOT CUT THE LINE. Leaving a hook in one of these birds can cause it to suffer or die. Have an adult help you to extract the hook. You should work with your parent or adult fishing with you before you begin your fishing trip so that you will know what to do if you do hook a pelican. A few simple acts can prevent a tragedy. Even a small amount of fishing line left attached to the bird can become entangled when it goes back to roost. [teacher note: an interesting observation that you can have students do is to observe the number of individuals that dive together. They can make graphs of singles, pairs, triples, etc. If students live near the water, they can observe the birds at different times of the day feeding to discover whether singles or groups feed differently at various times of the day. A good webquest exercise is to have students research how humans have affected seabird health. Teachers, a visit to the Pelican Man’s Bird Sanctuary in Sarasota can be a great way to augment your classroom exercises. Groups are welcome for a small fee. In addition, there are classes offered with lab fees. Some of these are more suitable for older children. Going to one of the classes is a great way for a student to learn about volunteering or to bring back information to share with classmates.] If you have dry detention ponds around your school, when it rains look to see if the wading birds are there. Some schools have freshwater wetlands nearby. Observe these areas early in the morning and late in the afternoon. Sometimes the “marine” birds will also use freshwater habitats to supplement their diets.
Gulls are found everywhere along our coast. Because they tend to eat and rest together, they are among the most conspicuous of our sea birds. Many of the gulls are not good hunters of live food; they will scavenge along the shoreline (and in human garbage dumps). They will also steal food from pelicans and from each other. Sometimes you can even see a gull sitting on top of a pelican’s head! When you are observing the pelicans, look to see if you can also see gulls nearby. How many do you see? Because these birds can be noisy and aggressive, marina owners and others who live around the coast try to discourage them from feeding nearby. However, these birds are an important part of the coastal system, removing dead and dying animals from the intertidal. If you are around where these birds are feeding on land, you should be careful of their feces. This material can harbor not only parasites, but also large numbers of bacteria.
If you are taking your walk in the evening, you may see bats in some of the high marsh areas. Most of these bats eat mosquitos. [teacher note: there is an excellent set of activities created by the national wildlife federation here for teaching about bats and their importance to our environment. If you want to follow up with other activities on bats, NASA has some nice materials on remote sensing, biodiversity and the properties of light, relating use of satellite imagery to how bats view their world. The teacher guide is very good, and the lessons combine physical and biological sciences well. Students can read the story of Echo online or a book version can be purchased for the library.
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