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Are We Making Progress On Everglades Restoration? Ask Florida's Wading Birds

Roseate spoonbills in Florida Bay. The birds sweep their distinctive bills in an arc through the water to dredge up fish and insects.
Mac Stone Photography
/
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Wood storks, roseate spoonbills, ibises and egrets are among the many birds that fly, paddle and wade through the Everglades.

They draw visitors, particularly photographers, to the ecosystem. But the Everglades' birds are important for another reason: The health of wading bird communities says a lot about progress on Everglades restoration.

Read more: Rare Subspecies Of Birder Found In South Florida: Counters. As In Bird Counters

"Particularly the wood storks, the spoonbills and the ibises, they need really high densities of prey," said Mark Cook, a lead scientist and avian ecologist for the South Florida Water Management District. "To get those high densities of prey, it’s a function of hydrologic conditions."

Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, west of Boynton Beach, is home to wading birds including egrets, herons and wood storks.
Credit Kate Stein / WLRN
/
The Florida Channel
Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, west of Boynton Beach, is home to wading birds including egrets, herons and wood storks.

Water quality, quantity, timing and delivery influence whether there are fish, insects and crayfish for the birds to eat. If there aren’t many birds, or if they’re not in their normal habitats, other species are likely struggling, too— and scientists take that as a sign restoration isn't going so well. But if there are a lot of wading birds, it means there’s progress.

Read more: What We Talk About When We Talk About Everglades Restoration

Cook said he and his team will be releasing their annual report on Everglades wading birds in the next few weeks. Last year's report found the number of nesting wading birds had fallen to its lowest level in a decade.

Copyright 2020 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Kate Stein can't quite explain what attracts her to South Florida. It's more than just the warm weather (although this Wisconsin native and Northwestern University graduate definitely appreciates the South Florida sunshine). It has a lot to do with being able to travel from the Everglades to Little Havana to Brickell without turning off 8th Street. It's also related to Stein's fantastic coworkers, whom she first got to know during a winter 2016 internship.Officially, Stein is WLRN's environment, data and transportation journalist. Privately, she uses her job as an excuse to rove around South Florida searching for stories à la Carl Hiaasen and Edna Buchanan. Regardless, Stein speaks Spanish and is always thrilled to run, explore and read.