Native Species of Southwest Florida: Who are the Pelicans in your Neighborhood?
Part of the fun in discovering the natural beauty of Sarasota and the greater area is identifying the rich and varied species of wildlife and native vegetation that we humans share in this very special part of Florida. Wildlife viewing and bird watching are some of the most popular activities for visitors (and residents) in our area. In fact, it’s estimated that than more than three billion(!) dollars is generated annually by visitors coming to Florida to see our flora and fauna. That is quite an impact! Buyers at INFINITY Longboat Key will have a front row seat for viewing some of the area’s most popular year-round residents – mammalian, avian or even reptilian.
Read on to discover just a few of your new INFINITY Longboat Key neighbors!
Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins
Bottlenose dolphins live in “pods” of 10–30 members, but group size varies from single individuals up to more than 1,000. Dolphins search for prey primarily using echolocation — emitting clicking sounds and listening for the return echos to determine the location and shape of nearby items, including potential prey. Bottlenose dolphins also use sound for communication, including squeaks and whistles emitted from their blowhole and sounds emitted through body language, such as leaping from the water and slapping their tails on the water surface.
Since 1970 Sarasota’s own Mote Marine Laboratory has been conducting the longest-running study of an Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin population using the “natural laboratory” of Sarasota Bay, which is the year-round home of more than 160 identifiable resident individuals, spanning at least five generations. The Program also monitors dolphins that have been treated at Mote and other rehabilitation hospitals and returned to the wild to determine the success of treatment.
West Indian Manatees
These docile, large, gray aquatic mammals have enormous bodies that taper to a flat, paddle-shaped tail. They have two forelimbs, called flippers, with three to four nails on each flipper. Like their closest relative the elephant, a manatee’s head and face are wrinkled with whiskers on the snout. The average adult manatee is about 10 feet long and weighs between 800 and 1,200 pounds.
Manatees can be found in shallow, slow-moving rivers, estuaries, saltwater bays, canals, and coastal areas — particularly where sea grass beds or freshwater vegetation flourish. Manatees are a migratory species. Within the United States, they are concentrated in Florida in the winter. In summer months, they can be found as far west as Texas and as far north as Massachusetts, but summer sightings in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina are more common.
Loggerhead Sea Turtles
The largest of all hard-shelled turtles loggerheads have massive heads, strong jaws, and a reddish-brown shell, or carapace. Adult males reach about three feet in shell length and weigh about 250 pounds. They are primarily carnivores, munching on jellyfish, conchs, crabs, and even fish, but they will occasionally eat seaweed and sargassum. These majestic creatures prefer coastal habitats, but often frequent inland water bodies and will travel hundreds of miles out to sea. Mature females will often return, sometimes over thousands of miles, to the beach where they hatched to lay their eggs.
Sea Turtle nesting season is from May through October and Sarasota County hosts the highest density of loggerhead sea turtles nesting on Florida’s West Coast. Other species that nest along Florida’s Gulf Coast include green sea turtles, and rarely, Kemp’s Ridley. Mature female loggerhead turtles come ashore and crawl to an area that they deem suitable for nesting. The turtle uses her hind flippers to dig a nest in the sand. She then lays, on average, 100 eggs. She covers the eggs with sand and crawls back to the water, having fulfilled her maternal duties.
In 55 to 60 days, the eggs hatch. The hatchlings are only two-to-three inches in length. After hatching, they start digging their way out of the nest. Nests are protected and volunteer opportunities abound for those interested in being involved with the “Turtle Watch” volunteers that monitor all nests.
The rosy-colored Roseate Spoonbill is one of Florida’s most distinctive wading birds. They feed on fish, crustaceans and aquatic insects using their unusual spatula-shaped bill. Spoonbills nest at several sites throughout the state, but can be found in virtually all coastal wetland areas around the peninsula – but our region is one of the very best areas to find them.
This seabird spending most of its time on or near the water feeding on fish by diving headfirst into the water from heights as great as 50 feet to scoop up fish near the surface. Once they capture the fish, they tip their head upward or to the side to drain the water from their bill pouch. These native pelicans breed in large colonies of several hundred pairs; they can be found in trees or bushes usually on estuarine islands. In Florida, pelicans nest mostly in mangroves.
Great Blue Heron
This statuesque and graceful bird is found throughout North America and is plentiful on the shores of our barrier islands. Standing at four feet tall, with a six-foot wingspan, it is also the continent’s largest heron species. While vocal in flight, Great Blue Herons are frequently observed standing silent and motionless along shorelines. The bird takes to the sky with slow, deep wingbeats; its long neck curved into an S-shape, and its head hunched back upon its shoulders.