This is the perfect tour for bird watcher. We see a lot of marine birds on every tour. Shell island is a bird sanctuary. Osprey
The Osprey is a bird of prey that feeds almost exclusively on fish, but has been seen eating other things such as small mammals and reptiles. It is sometimes called the sea hawk or fish eagle. They are known to adapt well to human activity.
They are the only raptor that has a reversible claw. When a fish is caught they have two claws on each side of the fish. Fisherman have even caught fish with Osprey claws in them, they can seem to get too good of a grip sometimes on their fish and have a hard time letting go. The one thing that has caused them to thrive has also caused them to perish. We think that they have a locking mechanism when griping fish.
The most interesting fact of all is that Osprey mate for life. They most often go back to the same nest year after year. We pass 2 nests on our way to shell island.
There is a small island in St. Andrews Bay called Audubon Island which is a dedicated nesting area for Pelicans.
This is the smallest of 8 species of Pelicans. The Brown Pelican is the only species that dives or plunges into the water to catch their fish. They look extremely funny and clumsy doing this. They have air pockets around their neck and shoulders to protect them from hitting the water with great force.
Brown Pelicans have made a great come back. They were once an endangered species, almost completely wiped out due to hunting and pesticides that made their eggs to thin to support the weight of the parents who both incubate the egg. They stand on their eggs to incubate them.
Great Blue Heron
These beautiful birds are the largest member of the Heron family in North America, reaching a 7 ft wing span. There is one Heron that you will probably meet that lives on and around our boat. His name is Rudy. He loves to steal bait from local fishermen.We also pass quite a few on our way to the island around Deep Water Point.
Herons are usually slow moving birds that will strike their prey at lighting speed. They fly with their neck in an “S” shape.
They are known to be solitary and territorial hunters but nest in colonies. One such colony can be seen on an island in gator lake in St. Andrews state Park.
One of the most noticeable features of this small wading bird are the bright yellow feet. The Snowy Egret uses these like fishing lures and to stir up fish it eats. They are a member of the Heron family.
The Snowy Egret, along with its larger cousin the great egret almost faced extinction in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. During mating season, these birds grow long beautiful feathers that became popular in the fashion industry around that time, causing them to be hunted to the point of leaving only a few animals on the planet. Their feathers were worth more then the price of gold in the early 1900’s. The now well known Audubon society, which is an organisation that protects wildlife, was founded originally to protect these birds. When you look at the logo, you can see an egret on it.
The egret is a symbol that represents a huge success for conservation
The fist birds to be protected by law where the Great and Snowy Egret. Not only do the feathers change during mating season, but they also get that bright green color around their eyes.
Double Crested Cormorant
The Cormorant is an interesting creature. I swims underneath the surface of the water to catch fish. People in China, Peru, Japan, and Europe have trained these animals to catch fish and bring them back. You’ll often see them standing on a piling with their wings spread out to dry them. They do not have the same oils on their feathers that some other marine birds do, causing them not to be very good at flying and cold when their wings are wet.
This unmistakable relative of the gulls uses its large beak to skim the surface of the water with their lower beak for small fish while flying. They have an automatic reflex in their beak which enables them to snap their beaks shut when they hit something solid in the water such as a fish. Because of the weight of their beaks skimmers will often stretch out across the sand with their bill resting on the ground.
Development and increased beach traffic pose a major threat to many of their traditional nesting grounds. Even a slight disturbance in the colony reduces the rate of nesting success. This is one of the reasons shell island is so important to the area.
The image above was taken on shell island on a winter day. Since then I have seen this pair of Eagles regularly near the same place.
Like Osprey, Bald Eagles mate for life as well as come back to the same nest year after year. They add to their nest every year, some nests can weigh as much as 1 ton.
Although there are a lot of similarities between the Bald Eagle and the Osprey, they do not get along. Eagles habitually steal fish from an Osprey in Flight.
Florida supports the highest number of breeding pairs of the lower 48 United States.