Red-Bellied Woodpecker

The red-bellied woodpecker may be one of the loudest species of birds that can be found in the Florida Everglades today. Like many of the species that can be found within the woodpecker family, this tiny, yet beautiful bird, was given the name “woodpecker” for a reason. They are true professionals when it comes to drilling holes into wood, utilizing their strong beaks in this way for purposes ranging from foraging for food to leaving warning messages outside of their dens.

The name of the red-bellied woodpecker, however, is quite misleading, as it is not the belly of this species of woodpecker that is red at all, but the cap of its head. Unfortunately, the name “red-headed woodpecker” was already taken by a close relative in the woodpecker family, so the red-bellied woodpecker had to settle for something slightly less descriptive. They are quite attractive birds, however, with gray or tan feathers on their faces and bellies and white and black barred patterns on their wings. They are also quite petite birds, only reaching lengths of about 10 inches and with wingspans no more than 18 inches long.

Like most, if not all woodpecker species, the red-bellied woodpecker is most known by its loud vocalizations and drumming behaviors. Both males and females will both call and drum, communicating with others of their species who are nearby. Males, however, do have a tendency to drum more than females, and this behavior is often associated with the attraction of a mate. These intense vocalizations start almost at birth for these woodpeckers, as babies will call for food from their parents when they are just fledglings.

When feeding, a red-bellied woodpecker will use its incredibly strong beak as a powerful tool, either probing into cracks in the wood or drilling its own holes when no cracks exist. Once food has been located, the woodpecker will use its long tongue to pull it out, usually feeding on either small insects or food previously stored by other animals deep within the wood. Like many other birds, red-bellied woodpeckers will then exhibit foraging behavior themselves by later storing this food in their own private locations.

Red-bellied woodpeckers also depend on dead and decaying wood for other reasons, such as for nesting, breeding, and shelter from potential predators. Because they are so small, they have many potential predators in the Everglades and surrounding suburban areas, such as hawks, owls, snakes, other species of woodpeckers, and even house cats. However, despite their small size, red-bellied woodpeckers are known to be quite territorial and fiercely protective over their nests, and will get aggressive with predators many times their size when watching out for their young.

While fewer red-bellied woodpeckers are being seen in southern Florida theses days, they can still be spotted occasionally by birdwatchers in the Everglades and by families on Everglades airboat tours. In fact, this is one bird species that can be found on an Everglades swamp tour that you’ll likely hear coming before you see it!

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Native Americans of the Florida Everglades

Humans have lived in Florida, in some form or another, for more than 15,000 years, though the snowbirds that can be found in the area today are far different than their ancestors who once hunted giant sloths and saber-toothed cats. It wasn’t until nearly 6,500 years ago that the Everglades became the lush, wet landscape that it is today, and human beings started to thrive along with those animals and plants in the area that could adapt to the drastic climate changes that were occurring.

After 3000 BCE, the water table was strong enough in South Florida to support numerous cultures throughout the state, one of which was the Glades people, so named for their proximity to the Everglades. The Glades people encompassed two separate tribes, the Calusa and the Tequesta, though people are much more familiar with the Calusa tribe today. While the Calusa Native Americans were not the only tribe to originally inhabit the area that is today known as South Florida and the Everglades, they proved to be the most powerful, controlling over fifty villages throughout the state and with numbers estimated around 7,000 at their prime.

The Everglades were central to life in the villages of Calusa Native Americans, with many villages located right on the mouths of rivers or on islands in the Florida Keys. And because water was so central to their lives, the Calusa utilized canoes as a means of traveling, often traveling as far as Cuba in their vessels. The Calusa, as well as other South Florida tribes at the time, could often be seen canoeing through the Everglades, as alligators, turtles, shellfish, and small mammals were an integral part of their diet. Much of the wildlife and plantlife in the Everglades proved integral to the lifestyle of the Calusa Native Americans, as many of their tools were fashioned out of reeds or the teeth and bones of their kills.

Unfortunately, like most Native American tribes in the Americas at the time, the Calusa could not hold up against the forces of European expansion. Some were killed outright, most died of illness, and by the start of the 1700′s, they numbered less than 1,000 in total. By this time they had been secluded to the Florida Keys, where they found refuge. Meanwhile, the Tequesta tribe, which were located in more of the Miami area on the east coast of Florida, faced similar problems and had their numbers drastically reduced. Eventually, what was left of the Tequesta merged with what was left of the Calusa, and by around 1820 or so, all Native Americans at the time in South Florida were grouped into a single term, “Seminoles.”

The Seminoles were friendly with the Spanish and were often referred to as “Spanish Indians” by the locals, and they also acted as allies with fugitive black slaves who found their way to Florida. During the Seminole Wars of the 1800′s, the Native Americans fought against U.S. troops who were attempting to speed up the annexing of the state into the union. When there were only a few hundred Seminoles left, the U.S. decided to leave them alone, and the culture still remains alive today as the Seminole Tribe of Florida, established in 1957.

While the Florida Everglades do look drastically different than the area appeared even a few hundred years ago, and further different still then the area appeared during the time when tribes like the Calusa were in their prime, there is much natural beauty to be found here. To truly get deep into the Everglades to view areas not accessible to humans by foot, one should take an Everglades tour by airboat, an experience designed for the whole family to enjoy. Airboat rides are fast, thrilling, and safe, and are the only way to travel in the Everglades today.

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Rock Dove

The rock dove, sometimes simply referred to as a “pigeon,” can be found all around the world, and in some places is so common that it can even be considered a nuisance or pest. In Europe alone, where rock doves originated, there are estimated to be between 17 and 28 million feral doves living in the wild. In the United States, where rock doves continue to thrive since having been introduced in the 1600′s, the species can be found both in and around heavily populated cities, as well as in more reclusive areas like the Florida Everglades.

Rock doves can be found on every continent except for Antartica, and it is perhaps this widespread nature that results in such a variation in their appearances. However, across the species, the average adult can be found reaching lengths of about 15 inches and with wingspans of about 24-28 inches. The heads of rock doves are a dark blueish-gray, with iridescence along their necks in shades of yellow, green, red, and purple. Rock doves also tend to have quite strikingly orange-yellowish eyes, which stand out even more so against their somewhat subdued body coloring. What is perhaps most interesting about their appearance is that the males and females of the species are nearly identical, a feature that is somewhat rare in the animal kingdom in general.

Rock doves and their relatives are highly susceptiple to predation, and because they are so common in urban areas in addition to more natural habitats, they are likely one of the main sources of food for raptorial birds all around the world. They are also hunted by many mammals on the ground as well, and are considered a game bird in many cultures around the world. In Southwest Florida, where rock dove populations blend seamlessly with the human populations around them, the greatest threat to rock doves is said to be feral cats.

Because pigeons have often been seen around major cities, scavenging for food seemingly wherever they can get it, they have often unfairly been associated with the spread of human disease. And while rock doves have been shown to carry certain diseases, they seem mostly unable to transmit them to humans. And while the presence of such birds in cities and towns around the world has led them to be considered a nuisance in some places, it is actually the release of domesticated pigeons into the wild by humans that has led to such large populations of feral pigeons in the first place.

Over the years, rock doves have made somewhat popular pets for those willing to put in the training, and have proved to be intelligent and adaptable birds. There’s a good reason while you’ll see doves or pigeons of some variety used by magicians or as homing birds – this species is highly trainable for a variety of uses. Proving to be useful carrier birds, rock doves were even supposedly used during World War I, and it’s even reported that a few dozen special pigeons received medals for their services.

Rock doves are just one of the many species of beautiful and interesting birds that you’ll find in the Florida Everglades, easily observable from a fun and exciting airboat ride. To view these birds for yourself and so much more that the Everglades has to offer, schedule an Everglades airboat tour for your family today!

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What is Molting and Why is it Done?

You may have never heard the term “molting” before, but chances are very good that you have encountered it before and are familiar with a few examples, whether you know it or not. In fact, whether you were even aware that it was happening, you yourself take part in various forms of molting periodically throughout each year, and have your entire life. Any time that you shed skin or hair in order to make way for fresh, new growth, you are taking part in the act of molting, an event that is quite common within the entire animal kingdom.

While you may not be able to recognize the molting on yourself, if you’ve ever had pets, then you are certainly familiar with the concept. Depending on the breed of dog or cat, some pets will go through heavy periods of molting once or twice a year, while others will seemingly be in a constant state of shedding. While, as a homeowner, the process may seem like a giant nuisance that you are constantly cleaning up after, it is an important natural process that your pet, just like you, must go through to stay healthy.

Molting, however, isn’t limited to the elimination of dead skin and hair, but refers to any act in which an animal casts off a part of its body periodically throughout its life. For insects, this can mean the shedding of and replacement of their wings, while for birds, it means the shedding of old feathers so that they can be replaced with vibrant, new ones. Probably the most well known example of molting is that of snakes shedding their skin, because unlike many other species that cast off skin when molting, snakes generally shed their skin in a single piece, leaving behind an eerie reminder of their presence.

Other species that shed their skin, such as amphibians, have been known to shed in multiple pieces, and oftentimes will consume the parts of their body that they have cast. In perhaps what are the most extreme cases of molting in the animal kingdom, some specials will go through what is considered a complete metamorphisis. In these instances, the end result of the molting process is almost completely unrecognizable from the creature that existed before it started. One such prominent example is that of the butterfly – it enters the molting process as a catepillar, and emerges from its cocoon sometime later as something much different, so different in fact that one might assume it was a completely different insect.

Without molting, animals would not be able to grow or change as they get older and it would result in some serious complications – many would not be able to survive at all. So while it may annoy you the next time you are picking up your dog’s hair around the house after their most recent molt, remember that without this important process, your dog would be unclean, unhealthy, and uncomfortable, and, because human beings molt too, so would you!

While you are unlikely to catch an animal or insect in the act of molting itself, you can observe many of the beautiful results of a successful molt while taking an airboat tour through the Everglades. On an Everglades swamp tour, you’ll see lizards, snakes, ambiphians, and birds, and plenty of other fun creatures that molt too!

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