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Exotic birds in Everglades National Park

SpoonbillThis is the time of year to see exotic birds. Here in South Florida, we see at least a few species of herons, egrets and ibises year-round. But in Everglades National Park, which was established in part to protect bird species that had been decimated by the trade in feathers and plumes, migratory birds from up north are arriving. Some year-round residents have started nesting season, making their location more predictable.

With dry weather, cooler temperatures and almost no mosquitoes, the park is just as enticing to humans -- many seasonal organized activities started just last week. So I’m planning a short road trip.

“A lot of visitors come here to see birds,” said Bob Showler, a park naturalist. “When we get a real rarity in from the Caribbean, we can get birders coming from all over the country just to see that one bird.”  

Showler detailed some of the birds that visitors might see:

The white pelican, which has a nine-foot wing span, is the largest and one of the most spectacular birds in the park. WhitepelicanIt can be seen near the Flamingo Visitors Center in the southwest part of the park, now until late March or early April, when it will leave for Canada, the northern plains states and Yellowstone National Park.

At the other end of the size scale are the tiny ruby-throated hummingbird, which hangs around plants with bright red or orange flowers, and the painted bunting, which sometimes can be in the weedy edges around the Eco Pond in Flamingo, or just feeding along the road.

Because it’s nesting season, visitors will have a better shot at seeing some of the park’s year-round residents. Last week, the park closed off Paurotis Pond for the season, which usually runs into April. There, people can see wood storks, which are an endangered species, and roseate spoonbills, as well as more common small varieties of egrets, ibises and herons. In recent years, about 400 pairs of wood storks have nested at the pond.

SmallerDSC_7539_PaurotisP_May2009 copy (1)The rookery is on the far side of the pond from the parking area, so visitors will not be able to get close.  “Even though you may not be able to get good views of them sitting on their nests, which are kind of hidden in the trees, you can see them flying in and out,” Showler said.

 “Another one that people get really excited to look for is the flamingo,” he said. “This is arguably the best place in the U.S. to look for them. They’re actually pretty rare in the wild state, even here.” Best place to spot flamingos: Snake Bight and Garfield Bight, in the shallow water along the northern edge of Florida Bay, year-round.

FlamingosEverglades National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, although the visitors centers are not open around the clock. Go here for general information about the park and here for more information about birds in the park, including a checklist of more than 350 species that have been spotted there.

Photos, from top: Roseate spoonbills, white pelican (Joe Rimkus/Miami Herald staff); Paurotis Pond (Everglades National Park); flamingos at Snake Bight (Tim Chapman/Miami Herald Staff).