Wild Turkey and Chicks
Along existing unpaved roads and the nature trail
loop, birders should have good luck finding eastern towhees,
eastern bluebirds, northern cardinals, white-eyed vireos, pine
warblers, wild turkeys and many species of woodpeckers. Look for
wood ducks in water-filled sinkholes, especially in winter.
Mississippi and swallow-tailed kites are regular spring and summer
visitors and migratory songbirds occur in the spring and fall.
Wildflowers attract numerous species of
butterflies. Protected gopher tortoises and Sherman's fox squirrels
are commonly spotted. Other animals often found in association with
the gopher tortoise and its burrow may also be found here,
including the Florida mouse, gopher frog, pine snake, and indigo
snake. Due to the site's proximity to the forested floodplain
community associated with the Suwannee River, populations of
traditional game species such as white-tailed deer and wild turkey
Wildlife Spotlight: Mississippi
© Peter May
One of the many signs of spring in north Florida is
the return of the Mississippi kite from its wintering grounds in
South America. The graceful and smooth, buoyant flight of this
migratory raptor is especially evident in Florida from April
through September along the floodplain forests north and west of
the Suwannee River. Some Mississippi kites nest as far south as
Alachua and Levy counties.
The Mississippi kite eats some vertebrates such as
frogs, lizards, birds and bats, but insects comprise the bulk of
its diet. This aerial feeding specialist is adept at catching
dragonflies, cicadas, beetles and other large flying insects, which
are caught with one or both feet and eaten on the wing. In Florida,
the Mississippi kite breeds from May through July, usually laying
two eggs in difficult to spot nests built in the forest canopy.
Some nests are reused from year to year.
Identification of the Mississippi kite is fairly
straightforward. Adults have a gray body with long, pointed,
slightly darker wings and a lighter-colored head. The long tail is
black. The breeding range of the Mississippi kite overlaps that of
the swallow-tailed kite in northwest Florida. Mississippi kites
lack the long, forked tail of swallow-tailed kites making these two
birds easy to separate in the field.
Kites spend much of the time in the air in slow,
seemingly effortless glides. Kites migrate in loose flocks and are
already paired when they arrive on their breeding grounds. The
population of Mississippi kites reached a low point in the 1940s
following a steady decline that began around the turn of the
century. The good news is that the species is reoccupying much of
its former range in the southwestern and southeastern states and is
commonly spotted nesting in suburban areas.