|Florida Birds: Raptors|
Kestrel- As engaging a bird as you'll ever see, the kestrel is
the smallest and most common of the falcons. Two subspecies of American
kestrel (Falco sparverius) occur in Florida: a northern subspecies (Falco
sparverius sparverius) that winters here between September and April,
and a resident, non-migratory subspecies, the southeastern American
kestrel (Falco sparverius paulus). Kestrels seen in Florida during
May-June are resident southeastern American kestrels. The back and tail
of the kestrel are russet, the wings blue-gray. Two lines of onyx tears
mark the sides of its white face. American kestrels nest in cavities
that they do not excavate. Instead, they must depend on
woodpeckers and natural processes to
create holes in trees. Kestrels nest predominantly in dead but standing
longleaf pine trees, called snags, usually in the abandoned cavities of
pileated woodpeckers. American kestrels often perch on telephone wires
at the edge of a field or other open area. From this vantage they hunt
for insects (especially grass-hoppers and dragonflies), lizards and
small mammals. Sometimes they are seen hovering like helicopters above
Crested Caracara- The Crested Caracara has a body length of 19 - 23 inches, a 4-foot wingspan, and weighs 1 3/4 - 3 1/2 pounds. The bird’s weight varies greatly depending on where it lives. The Crested Caracaras’ preferred habitat is open, lowland countryside, like pastures, savannas, river edges, and ranches of south-central Florida. About the size of an osprey, this boldly patterned raptor has a crest, naked face, heavy bill and longish neck and legs. A member of the falcon family, the caracara is a strong flier but spends a lot of time on the ground, scratching or digging for insects, or hunting around shallow ponds or marshes for turtles, snakes, frogs or fish. Caracaras occasionally eat larger animals such as rabbits and cattle egrets and a pair will sometimes work together to subdue these larger prey. Caracaras may also be spotted on fence posts or utility poles along highways where they scan roadways for road-killed raccoons, opossums or armadillos. Listed as Threatened, the Crested Caracara is most abundant in a six-county area north and west of Lake Okeechobee.
American Swallow-tailed Kite- The sight of a swallow-tailed kite is unforgettable: a black-and-white raptor (bird of prey) with a deeply forked tail soaring through the summer sky. Part of what awes you is the bird’s aerial grace as it swoops and twists over the trees “hawking” insects. After spending the fall and winter in South America, kites arrive in Florida in early March to breed. They build nests of small sticks woven with Spanish moss, preferably in tall cypress and pine. These trees emerge from a canopy of prey-rich woodlands, like those of swamps and savannas. Highly social for a raptor, they nest in loose colonies and often forage in small flocks. The kites eat all kinds of insects and small animals, including frogs, anoles and snakes. By early July, they begin to gather in large communal roosts for the migration back to South America.
Florida Snail Kite- The Florida snail kite is aptly named – it feeds almost exclusively on apple snails and, in the United States, is found only in Florida. Historically, snail kites were found from the Everglades to just southeast of Tallahassee, but wetland drainage and development eliminated or altered its shallow freshwater foraging habitat. The species was listed as endangered in 1967. Today, the population is considered to be stable, but extremely vulnerable to the stresses of habitat loss, prolonged droughts and anything that affects the availability of apple snails, its primary food. Snail kites breed from December to August and lay an average of three eggs in bulky nests built in a variety of wetland trees, shrubs and emergent vegetation. During the nesting season, the birds are usually found singly or in pairs; in winter, they often roost together in communal groups. Generally, the species is somewhat nomadic, moving from wetland to wetland in search of snails.
Peregrine Falcon- Agility, speed, power - these are fitting adjectives describing the flight of the peregrine falcon, the world's fastest bird. This skillful hunter, famous for its ability to snatch birds right out of the sky, has awed many a bird watcher fortunate enough to witness its stooping flight- the term used to describe this bird's steep downward plunge, with wings partially closed, at speeds that can exceed 150 mph. Such deadly stealth is effective on doves, shorebirds and ducks, the peregrine's favorite prey. Peregrine falcons don't breed in Florida, but like many northern breeders, some spend the winter here. They are regularly spotted during spring and fall migrations as they move between northern breeding grounds and wintering areas in Central and South America.
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