The White Ibis is a stunning bird of the Deep South that prefers coastal salt marshes, swamps, and mangroves, though it can also be found feeding on lawns and in city parks. They stand about two feet tall and are unmistakable in breeding plumage. I was hoping to see one on this trip; I didn’t think it would be so easy!
The chain link fence surrounded a small pond, and there were lots of other birds in the area including several Boat-tailed Grackles, a couple of crows, and five more ibises and a few ducks on the ground inside the fence. I soon understood what the attraction was – someone had put out food for the birds just inside the fence. I recognized a few Muscovy Ducks, though the geese that were feeding with them were completely unfamiliar to me. This looks to be a Swan Goose, a non-native species that isn’t countable in Florida. Given the fact that all of the waterfowl were inside the fence, I didn’t count any of them as I wasn’t sure whether or not they were captive.
I also saw a couple of starlings and two House Sparrows in the area. A crow was sitting on the fence as well, and I didn’t think anything of it until I heard the nasal “uh-uh” call of a Fish Crow coming from the tree above us! I was taking photos through the car window and couldn’t see the Fish Crow, but it was neat to hear the sound after learning it at home.
The male Boat-tailed Grackles were stunning in the sunshine. They were quite large, too – larger than I expected.
I counted six grackles, including a female feeding a juvenile. This isn’t the greatest photo – the sun was in the wrong spot after we moved the car to get closer – but you can see Junior making a fuss on the left while his mother waits with a morsel of food on the right.
A Turkey Vulture landed on the fence then, adding to the fun!
One of the male Boat-tailed Grackles did not take kindly to the vulture and started attacking. Note that the size difference between the two birds is not as great as, say, a Red-winged Blackbird and a Turkey Vulture. Seeing a red-wing attacking a Turkey Vulture is pretty commonplace in Ottawa, and the enormous size difference between the two makes the encounter all the more intriguing. Here the Boat-tailed Grackle (which is about twice the size of a red-wing) looks like he would be almost evenly matched with the vulture. I also note that this is the only photo I have showing the grackle’s magnificent tail.
One of the Ibises feeding on the ground joined the first one on the fence. There were just so many awesome birds I wasn’t sure where to look first! Yeah, these are probably common “dirt birds” to people who live in Florida, but they were almost all new to me and I was thoroughly enjoying them and their interactions with each other.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw three small dark birds land on the nearby stop sign. I almost didn’t pay attention to them – they were the size and colour of European Starlings – but a small flash of yellow on the face seized my attention. It was another new bird, and I wasn’t prepared at all for this one!
It was just a whim that led me to look up “Common Myna” on my phone app; I had heard of these birds, but didn’t bother to learn what they looked like as I knew they were considered Florida specialties and figured that they therefore needed special effort to track down. Sure enough, the picture on my birding app matched the three small birds with the yellow legs and yellow bare patch on their faces.
This is another non-native species that has made itself at home in southern Florida. It is native to Asia and the Indian subcontinent, and was first discovered in Florida in 1983 when six birds were found during the Dade County Christmas Bird Count. Their population quickly increased and spread to other parts of southern Florida, though the explosion was not as extensive as first predicted. Like its relative the European Starling, the Common Myna is an adaptable bird of open country and urban environments. They are omnivores whose diet includes fruits, seeds, insects, and trash found in shopping mall parking lots, which seems to be their preferred habitat in Florida. They also compete with native species for nest cavities and have even been observed attacking Purple Martins attempting to nest in martin houses.
Regardless of its status as another exotic nuisance bird, I knew that it was countable and was just as happy to watch the three mynas walking along the parking lot, picking at food items on the ground as I was with the White Ibises or the Northern Mockingbirds.
It was incredible that a single White Ibis perching on a fence next to the main highway had led me to three new life birds. It was definitely a profitable stop; I’d never imagined that a Florida parking lot could have so many interesting birds!