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Florida birds


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Osprey



Female Osprey - Palm Harbor, Florida

The Osprey is a powerful raptor that is often mistaken for a bald eagle. Like the eagle, it has a downward curving bill and strong claws, and feeds mainly on fish. But the osprey is much smaller than the eagle and has a different color configuration. The bald eagle has a massive yellow bill and yellow feet, a dark brown body, dark wings and a brilliant white head and white tail.

The osprey has dark wings, but its chest, belly and feet are white. It has a white head, but it has a distinctive dark eye mask and a dark bill. Female ospreys have a pattern of brown feathers across the white chest. Otherwise, the male and female look alike. Young ospreys grow quickly and both sexes initially resemble the male. Young females gradually develop the brown pattern across the chest as they mature. Interestingly, adult ospreys have yellow eyes, but the eyes of young ospreys are reddish orange. From the back you can tell the young ospreys by the white scalloping on the edge of their feathers.

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Great Blue Heron



Great Blue Heron - Tarpon Springs, Florida

The great blue heron is a tall wading bird that has a long neck and long legs. Its body and wings are mainly gray or bluish gray. Its head is white and black. The eyes are yellow. Its neck is gray in back, but the front of the neck is white with delicate dark markings. Its long pointed bill is gray on top and yellow on the bottom, and is very useful for spearing and catching fish.

Immature great blue herons have rust colored thighs and shoulder patches. The great blue heron is often seen standing very still, patiently waiting to capture its food. When disturbed, it squawks loudly and flies away with heavy wing beats, its long legs trailing behind.

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Little Blue Heron



Little Blue Heron - Palm Harbor, Florida

The little blue heron is an active medium size wading bird that has slate blue feathers and light green legs. It has a two-tone bill that is light blue or gray at the top and black at the tip. Its eyes are yellow. During breeding time, the neck and head of the little blue heron turn purple, and purple plumes that resemble a slender pony tail grow from the back of the head. The top of the bill turns bright blue.

The most interesting thing about this bird is that it is not blue when it is young. It is white. As it matures, it goes through a calico phase when the white feathers gradually molt and are replaced by blue feathers, giving the bird a blotchy appearance until it reaches the slate blue adult phase.

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Great Egret



Great Egret - Tarpon Springs, Florida

The great egret is a tall white heron that has a long graceful neck, long black legs and black feet. Its long pointed bill is yellow. Like the great blue heron, it uses a "stand and wait" method of catching fish. It wades in shallow water till it finds the right spot to wait for its meal to swim by, then it stabs it with its sharp bill.

During breeding time the great egret has beautiful lacy white plumes on its back and tail.  Unfortunately, these feathers are what almost caused the bird to become extinct. Before it was protected by law, the great egret was hunted and killed for those lovely white plumes.

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Snowy Egret



Snowy Egret - Tarpon Springs, Florida

The snowy egret is a small heron that has brilliant white feathers and a long black bill with yellow lores. It has long black legs and bright yellow feet. The yellow feet are the defining feature of this bird. During breeding time, there is little change in this bird's appearance except that the tail feathers curve sharply upward.

The snowy is more active than the larger great egret. Snowy egrets pace the shoreline looking for food rather than using the "stand and wait" method common to many of the larger wading birds. The snowy is often seen with ibises, great egrets and little blue herons - especially when the tide is low, which is when these birds search the shallow water for fish and small crabs.