Floridian Nature

Learn about Florida's beautiful and unique nature.

Florida Birds: Waterfowl
mallard duckMallard Duck- Historically, wild mallards normally winter in Florida in widely scattered, small flocks and are seldom seen in large concentrations except in some of the northern counties. These wild birds migrate out of our state to northern breeding areas in the spring and are not present in Florida during the mottled duck breeding season. The green head and yellow bill of the mallard duck is a familiar sight to many people living in the Northern hemisphere. In fact, the mallard is thought to be the most abundant and wide-ranging duck on Earth. The male, or drake, is the more distinctively colored of the mallards. Its iconic green head sits atop a white neckband that sets off a chestnut-colored chest and gray body. Females are mottled drab brown in color, but sport iridescent purple-blue wing feathers that are visible as a patch on their sides. They grow to about 26 inches in length and can weigh up to 3 pounds. Mallards prefer calm, shallow sanctuaries, but can be found in almost any body of freshwater across Asia, Europe, and North America. They’re also found in saltwater and brackish water and are commonly found in wetlands. Mated pairs migrate to and breed in the northern parts of their range and build nests on the ground or in a protected cavity.

American CootAmerican Coot- The American Coot is a medium-sized bird with a white bill, yellow legs, and lobed toes. The body is dark gray to black with a blackish head and neck. Some of the undertail coverts are white and visible, especially during display. Juveniles are paler and have greenish-gray legs. The downy chick's plumage is a colorful orange on the head and neck. In flight, coots may be distinguished by a white trailing edge on most of the wing. American Coots are noisy, gregarious members of the rail family. They propel themselves through the water by pumping their heads back and forth. Flocks often forage along the shore or on lawns. They also dive for aquatic plants. To become airborne, they must scramble across the water with wings flapping vigorously. Coots will aggressively defend nesting territories, attacking each other with their feet. Opportunistic feeders, coots eat mostly plant material but will also feed on small fish, tadpoles, snails, worms, insects, and eggs of other birds. The nest, built by both sexes, is a floating platform made of stems of marsh plants. It is concealed in vegetation and anchored to surrounding plants. Females lay 6-11 eggs, and both sexes incubate. The young are able to swim soon after hatching and follow the parents to be fed.

muscovy waterfowlMuscovy- The wild Muscovy Duck is all-dark apart from the white in the wings, with long talons on its feet and a wide flat tail. Numerous colorations are now seen, including all, or mostly, white muscovies and even some brown-phase specimens. The male is 86 cm long and weighs 3 kg, much larger than the 64 cm long, 1.3 kg female. His most distinctive features are a bare red face with a pronounced caruncle at the base of the bill and a low erectile crest of feathers. Hens and juvenile birds have smaller, less bumpy face masks. They are smaller with a more slender appearance than the male. Significant feral populations of Muscovy exist in Florida and southern Texas.

Florida wood ducksWood Duck-  A colorful duck of wooded swamps and stream sides, the Wood Duck is one of only a few North American ducks that nest in trees. Many people consider it to be the most beautiful of all waterfowl. The Wood Duck nests in trees near water, sometimes directly over water, but other times up to 1.2 miles away. After hatching, the ducklings jump down from the nest tree and make their way to water. The mother calls them to her, but does not help them in any way. The ducklings may jump from heights of up to 290 feet without injury! Wood Ducks pair up in January, and most birds arriving at the breeding grounds in the spring are already paired. The Wood Duck is the only North American duck that regularly produces two broods in one year. Natural cavities for nesting are scarce, and the Wood Duck readily uses nest boxes provided for it. If nest boxes are placed too close together, many females lay eggs in the nests of other females. These "dump" nests can have up to 40 eggs.

Florida motled duckFlorida Mottled Duck- The mottled duck  is a non-migratory, close relative of the mallard. The Florida mottled duck, often called the Florida duck or Florida mallard, is a unique subspecies found only in peninsular Florida, residing in both brackish and freshwater marshes. The Florida mottled duck spends its entire life within the state and has inhabited Florida for thousands of years. Mottled ducks are large and brown in color but appear very dark when viewed at a distance. Mottled ducks are darker than female mallards, but slightly lighter in color than black ducks. Approximately 40 percent of the mottled duck's diet consists of animal matter such as insects, snails, mollusks, crayfish and small fish. The remainder of its diet is composed of grass seeds, stems, and roots; seeds of other marsh plants; and bayberries.
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