Spring is back and we have exciting news here in the Pensacola Beach area! Flocks of birdwatchers have been visiting us because of a visit from the Red Billed Tropicbird. This bird is rarely sighted in our area as it prefers to stay further south. Although the Red Billed Tropicbird is our most recent avian celebrity we have many other wonderful northern Gulf Coast birds that live here year-round. The Gulf Coast has a disproportionately large number of bird species compared to the rest of America. Frequently spotted northern Gulf Coast birds are ducks, loons, pelicans, and herons. Also seen are egrets, ibises, gulls, terns, and skimmers.
There is so much to share about our local birds, where do we start?!?
Ducks – Monogamous pairs of Mottled and Mallard ducks can be found on our beaches. They frequently return to the same location to raise their young each year.
Loons – (The bird, not the crazy person.) Frequently spend their time near Shoreline Park in Gulf Breeze, our most popular pick up location. You will see them fishing underwater near the docks.
Pelicans – The Brown Pelican is the most commonly seen in our area. It was recently taken off the Endangered Species list. Yay! Their bodies and behavior are designed to maximize fishing accuracy and avoid bodily damage on impact as they dive from as high as 60 feet in the air.
Herons – We have Great Blue, Little Blue and Tricolor herons and Snowy Egrets. Great Blues are big, blue-gray with a white head and yellow bill. Little Blues are small and blue with a reddish head and blue bill. Tricolors are also blue-gray but have a light throat and belly. We have a Great Blue Heron that frequents the dock at Shoreline Park asking for handouts (don’t oblige him!). In contrast, Snowy Egrets are small white herons with skinny black bills and long black legs with yellow feet.
Ibises – This medium bird is white with long legs and a distinctive bright orange bill that curves downward. They poke their bill into the sand to find food by feel, not by sight.
Gulls – Love people and this is a problem. Please don’t share your fries or potato chips as gulls can get aggressive! Besides, fries and chips are just as bad for them as they are for us 😉
Terns – Look like small gulls and will attack humans during nesting season. Their babies are tiny and resemble cotton balls when they first leave their beach nest. Be sure to slow down when driving our beach roads to avoid squashing them.
Skimmers – They are mostly black with a white forehead and belly. They also have a strange orange bill with a black tip that is used to part the surface of the water as they fly low. They also find their food by feel and not by sight. When their bill contacts a fish as they skim the water they snap their mouth closed and enjoy their meal.
And there are so many more! Check out the websites below to explore our local bird population more in depth. Special thanks to all of them for assisting with my research!
Gulf Island Birds from the National Park Service: https://www.nps.gov/guis/learn/nature/birds.htm
Backyard Birds of North America: https://www.surfbirds.com/namericanbirds/heron-egret.html
Audubon – Black Skimmer: https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/black-skimmer
Don’t forget to check out other things to see near our beautiful waters!