Redheads © David Sparks


What migratory songbirds and waterfowl have in common is their seasonality. Some birds make the island their home year round. Others are simply passing through. Salt water ducks and waterfowl come to spend the winter, much like some of their human counterparts called “snowbirds”.

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Common Goldeneye © David Sparks

Migratory songbirds use the island for brief stopovers.  During spring and fall, many species of warblers, vireos, tanagers and other songbirds can be found on the island.  Look for them in vegetated habitats where they are foraging for food.  These birds travel from their nesting sites in North America to points south, some as far as southern South America.  Songbirds that breed on Santa Rosa Island include Northern Mockingbirds, Brown Thrashers, White-eyed Vireos, Northern Cardinals, Starlings, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Loggerhead Shrikes.

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White-eyed Vireo © Perry Doggrell

One of these tiny songbirds, the Northern Parula, nests within our area. Weighing less than ½ ounce like most warblers, this tiny blue and gold jewel may start its migration in southeastern Canada arriving on the heels of a cold front here in northwest Florida.  It may spend several days fattening up, then jump off from our Gulf shoreline and fly nonstop south across the Gulf of Mexico to southern Mexico. In spring, these songbirds, some of which originate their northward flights in southern South America, will land exhausted along our beaches and in coastal vegetation having crossed vast stretches of land and 550 miles over the Gulf.

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Northern Parula © David Sparks

Once winter weather descends with cold dry air behind cold fronts, winter waterfowl start showing up in our bays, the Sound and the Gulf. While fresh water ducks like Blue- and Green-winged Teal and Northern Shovelers are passing through, the salt water ducks and waterfowl have come to spend the winter. Common Loons, Horned Grebes, Bufflehead and Red-breasted Mergansers can be found in all saltwater areas. A rare Pacific Loon might also be spotted.

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Common Loon © David Sparks

The marine grasses in the Sound support several handsome species. Common Goldeneyes, Bufflehead, Greater Scaup, Redheads and several species of scoters can be found mostly in the sound. The underwater grasses provide food and harbor invertebrates like mollusks and other marine organisms that are prey for waterfowl. It is not unusual to see a feeding frenzy in the Gulf. Here there will be chaos as diving ducks and loons surface with fish ready to swallow. But gulls hovering over the successful fishers have a different idea. They harass the diving birds trying to make them drop their fish which the gull quickly steals and flies off to consume. There’s always something to watch along our shorelines.

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Bufflehead © David Sparks

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