Find them on the beach near the water's edge, looking for food by probing the wet sand with their bills. At slightly more than six inches in length, one of the smallest Florida shorebirds is the sander ling.
You'll see them, usually in groups of a dozen or fewer, scurrying on tiny legs ahead of surging waves. Switchers also frequent the shoreline, but are larger and run less than sander lings.
They have a long, thin bill and are usually gray or light brown, depending on the time of year. The Snowy Egret is white with black legs and bright yellow feet.
The White Ibis has a long, curved bill that's ideal for probing the sand for food. The eggs are hard to see and must be constantly guarded, or a hungry predator will eat them.
Birds can get their feet tangled in a piece of monofilament line. Other plastic items with holes can also become traps, so please dispose of all trash properly and help keep our birds healthy.
Contact the local beach patrol, lifeguard, park rangers or other authorities. They can contact local bird rescue volunteers, who are trained to capture and transport injured or sick seabirds.
Your presence may prevent the parent birds from returning with food. You may need to push the point through the skin and cut off the barb before you can extract the hook.
Most fishing piers have posted instructions for dealing with hooked birds. You can find Florida ’s beautiful seabirds on any beach or bay shoreline, or in and around mangrove trees, seawalls and piers.
Many of Florida's shorebirds, egrets and herons are even active after dark and can be seen on the beach during a full moon. A great place to watch pelicans and herons is on any pier with fishermen.
In Florida, many of our seabirds are migratory and can be seen in greater abundance during fall and winter migration. When my late, beloved grandma made a meal that she did not like, or that did not meet her expectations, she dubbed it as being for the birds.
As a child I remember finding the expression confusing, as I recognized a negative connotation that didn’t seem to fit with the delicious dish that everyone else was thoroughly enjoying. Until recently, the above list had remained remarkably intact, and fishing had retained its noble perch for many years.
Within moments of emerging from the turbulent tide, we stumbled across a nutrient-rich weed line floating in 200-feet of water and immediately spotted our colorful target swimming below. I sprung into action and raced about the boat, netting baits, bating hooks and casting lines.
In a matter of moments all three rods were doubled over, adding the chores of landing and unhooking fish to my duties. Angie and Alex watched dumbfounded as I performed a solo rendition of the ‘fin fire drill.
As bait fish showered, dolphin ravaged and birds crashed, Angie finally tired of being a passive observer. I can only presume that the salty air muffled my suggestion, and that Angie mistakenly heard, “Cast directly to the menacing bird with huge talons and sharp beak.” And so she did.
Just as quickly she happily retreated to her observer role, tossing me the rod that was tethered to the belligerent bird. While I tentatively pulled the angry and wildly flailing bird into the boat, Angie and Alex battled our intended species on the remaining rods.
I faced the bow, took a few paces backward, lowered my shoulders and raced forward to give needed momentum and project the demonic creature into the air. As I writhed on the deck, cupping my elbow and arching my throbbing hip, Angie and Alex obliviously bailed dolphin.
Angie and Alex gave token inquiry into my condition, but quickly returned to their newly found dolphin prowess. I remained on the deck for several minutes, as I shouted instructions from a prone position before eventually propping myself up on the leaning post.
One of the most common birds you’ll see in Florida ’s marshes, coots are among the noisiest. A distinctive sight along Florida ’s waterways, the great blue heron is the tallest of the blue-hued wading birds you’ll see hunting along the shorelines.
The largest of the white-colored wading birds in Florida, the great egret is frequently seen in wetlands areas and along waterways. But the way they hold their neck and the iridescent green of the feathers on their backs help make them easy to identify.
The osprey is a large black and white raptor, up to two feet tall and with a six-foot wingspan. One of the most distinctive sounds you’ll hear in a Florida marsh is the call of the red-winged blackbird, particularly when there are a large flocks of them.
There’s no mistaking the roseate spoonbill, with its bright pink plumage and distinctive shovel-shaped beak. Tall, distinctive birds that you’ll see everywhere in the Florida peninsula, sandhill cranes mate for life and travel in pairs or as a family.
Sometimes mistaken for other white wading birds in Florida, the snowy egret has distinctive yellow feet and a black bill. Called curlew by native Floridians, the white ibis is a wading bird that tends to browse and travel in flocks.
Once highly threatened due to habitat loss in its nesting areas, it’s made a spectacular comeback It includes an excellent database of images showing young, juvenile, immature, and color morphs of species, as well as sound clips.
As you draw close, the birds explode from the brush, you mount your shotgun to your shoulder and drop one with a well-placed shot. Characterized by liberal bag limits (15 per day) and exciting action, these little-hunted gems are gaining popularity among low-country anglers for good reason.
These birds are hunted on the same flood tides during which tailing red fish are caught, making “low country cast and blast” expeditions a staple in Northeast Florida's outdoor experiences. Marsh hen hunting is available pursuant to the season set by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and is generally September 1st to November 15.