Tag Archives: Florida

some of America’s avian treasures

North America is home to many amazing bird species, including several which require a special effort to see and appreciate. These avian treasures also invite one to sites that are unique within the United States—the climate, vegetation, and landscapes all add context and heighten the experience of seeing one’s first Elegant Trogon or Painted Bunting. So let’s look at this sampler, shall we?

Rosy-finch
Rosy-finch, Naturalist Journeys stock photo

ROSY-FINCHES Breeding only above tree line on windswept and desolate rock faces (or equally austere habitats on the Aleutians), the three American Rosy-Finches (Gray-crowned, Black, and Brown-capped) are extreme environment specialists that are endemic to North America. In the summer, they are the highest altitude breeding songbird in North America. Their nests often overlook snowfields in the highest mountains, gathering along the edges of melting snowbanks to feed on freshly uncovered seeds and insects. In autumn and winter, they descend these high ridges to avoid the worst of the high winds and blowing snow—sometimes to feeders such as Sandia Crest in New Mexico, where there is a long ongoing study on these fascinatingly tough avian treasures.

See Rosy-Finches and more avian treasures on our New Mexico Nature & Culture Naturalist Journeys tour.

Painted Bunting by Carlos J Sanchez
Painted Bunting by Carlos J Sanchez

PAINTED BUNTING There are few birds in the world with such a dramatic combination of blue, green, and red colors as the Painted Bunting. In fact, its French name nonpareil means “without an equal,” and its Cuban name mariposa means butterfly. Only in their second fall do the males achieve their spectacular plumage. These colorful songbirds occur in two populations, a western one, which winters in Mexico and Central America and an eastern one, which winters in South Florida and Cuba. In winter, they occur in rank thickets and woodland edges where they feed mostly on seeds. Due to their beauty and warbling song, poachers trap these buntings in South Florida for an illegal local cage-bird trade.

See Painted Bunting and more avian treasures on our South Florida: Everglades & More Naturalist Journeys tour.

Elegant Trogon by Homer Gardin
Elegant Trogon by Homer Gardin

ELEGANT TROGON Trogons and quetzals are an ancient, colorful bird family that occurs in forests and other wooded habitats from the American tropics to Africa to Southeast Asia. The word Trogon, from the Greek meaning “gnawer,” refers to their hooked, serrated bills used to eat large insects and fruit—as well as gnaw on the rotting wood of old woodpecker cavities to reuse as nesting sites. The exquisite Elegant Trogon, mostly a Mexican species of the Sierra Madre, is the only member of this tropical bird family to range north into Southeast Arizona – the only trogon species in the United States and often considered “the most sought after bird in Arizona.”

See an Elegant Trogon and more avian treasures on our Southeast Arizona Sky Island Spring Sampler Naturalist Journeys tour.

Green Jay by Delsa Anderl
Green Jay by Delsa Anderl

GREEN JAY Bright and sociable, Green Jays are a joy to watch as they move around wooded habitats in tight family flocks in search of large insects, seed, and fruit. Occurring primarily in two disjunct populations (one in Mexico and the other in the Andes), these jays are common residents in South Texas where they are steadily spreading northward. These birds are unusual in that parents retain non-breeding jays fledged from the previous year to help with territorial defense but do not assist as helpers-at-the-nest.

See Green Jays and more avian treasures on our South Texas Birding & Nature Naturalist Journeys tour.

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South Florida’s Caribbean Birds

Tropical Hardwood Hammocks & South Florida’s Caribbean Birds

South Florida's Caribbean Birds
Short-tailed Hawk by Carlos Sanchez

By Naturalist Journeys Guide, Carlos Sanchez

“The great pointed paw of the state of Florida, familiar as the map of North America itself, of which it is the most noticeable appendage, thrusts south, farther south than any other part of the mainland of the United States. Between the shining aquamarine waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the roaring deep-blue waters of the north-surging Gulf Stream, the shaped land points toward Cuba and the Caribbean. It points toward and touches within one degree of the tropics.” — Marjory Stoneman Douglas

South Florida's Caribbean Birds
Everglades Scenic, Naturalist Journeys Stock

In this eloquent passage, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, author of The Everglades: River of Grass, beautifully captures the essence of Florida’s unique geography within the United States. Due to its closeness to the tropical Caribbean and the warm Gulf Stream, this peninsula harbors several unique plant communities found nowhere else in the USA. One of these is tropical hardwood hammock, a dense stand of hardwood trees of primarily Caribbean origin (sometimes over 90% of native species present). These rich and diverse forests with such evocatively named trees such as gumbo limbo, cocoplum, and wild cinnamon are important for a number of South Florida’s Caribbean birds that reach the northern end of their range in here: White-crowned Pigeon, Mangrove Cuckoo, and Black-whiskered Vireo. They are also an important wintering ground for a wide variety of songbirds.

South Florida's Caribbean Birds
Mangrove Cuckoo by Carlos Sanchez

White-crowned Pigeon is a handsome, large pigeon that depends on these hardwood forests to feed. During spring and early summer, these birds can be seen streaming overhead into Florida Bay by the hundreds in the afternoon at Flamingo in Everglades National Park. They can also be seen throughout the year in suburban Miami where they have taken a liking for ornamental fruiting trees in people’s yards! In spring, the nasal call notes of Mangrove Cuckoo and repetitive song of Black-whiskered Vireo can be heard in healthy tropical hardwood hammocks in South Florida — the former is partially resident while the other flies all the way from South America to spend the summer here. Of course, all three of these species are among the most desired of South Florida’s Caribbean birds to see for the visiting birdwatcher.

South Florida's Caribbean Birds
Yellow-throated Warbler by Carlos Sanchez

In fall and winter, these forests become even more active! Mangrove Cuckoos fall silent and Black-whiskered Vireos depart for the true tropics, but a couple dozen species of warbler, vireo, tanager, oriole, and flycatcher spend the winter in South Florida in this habitat. While the rest of the country lies in winter’s grip, January and February are a great time to observe “summer” birds in Miami and the Keys: Baltimore Oriole, Yellow-throated and Blue-headed Vireo, Great Crested Flycatcher, Summer Tanager, Painted and Indigo Bunting, and diverse flocks of warblers that can include everything from Worm-eating to Yellow-throated to Black-throated Blue. Winter is also the best time to see Short-tailed Hawk, a striking South Florida specialty often missed on spring tours, soaring high overhead.

South Florida's Caribbean Birds
Painted Buntings, Naturalist Journeys Stock

In conclusion, South Florida and its unique tropical hardwood hammocks always have something to offer, whether it is a spring tour to catch up with uncommon summer breeders or a winter tour for the sheer diversity of wintering songbirds. Please consider joining us for either the winter or spring version of our Florida tour!


South Florida's Caribbean Birds
Guide Carlos Sanchez

A special thank you to Carlos Sanchez for such a well-written and informative post on South Florida’s Caribbean birds. Recently, Carlos gave a talk entitled “Following Birds to the Heart of Brazil” to the Linnaean Society of New York at the American Museum of Natural History. What an honor!

We are lucky to count Carlos as one of our guides. You can travel with Carlos on a Naturalist Journeys adventure in Winter 2017 to the Galapagos, South Florida, Belize, and Cuba. Don’t miss your chance to explore with such a talented guide.