|Blue grosbeak male|
|Blue grosbeak and indigo males|
We have recently had what I call a "mini-fallout" of birds along the SW FL coast. In our yard on Manasota Key we have had the pleasure of observing beautiful migrants including warblers such as hooded, parula, prairie, and even the rare Kentucky, orchard and Baltimore orioles, summer and scarlet tanagers, blue grosbeaks, a peewee, and lots of ruby throated hummingbirds.
We maintain water drips that attract the birds by sight and sound and saw a pair of birds attracted to the water that might be termed the "blues brothers." The adult male indigo bunting turns a bright blue this time of year and although a few spend the winter in FL, most migrate in from the south heading to their breeding grounds to the north. The male blue grosbeak differs in having a much larger bill, a different blue color and rufous wing bars. This individual also appears to be molting its brown juvenile feathers and replacing them with blue ones. As its name grosbeak implies it also has a very large bill, the better to crack large seeds.
But it is interesting that the indigo bunting always loses the adult male blue color in winter, whereas the adult blue grosbeak remains blue all year. This mirrors the difference between male plumage color in summer (permanently red) and scarlet tanagers (seasonally red only) and shows how strategies for camouflage and male-male territorial aggression vary even among closely related species.
|Orchard oriole male collecting nectar|
Orchard orioles are particularly attracted to local yards with flowers and fruit during migration; they seem to prefer gathering nectar from Cape honeysuckle and Turk's cap hibiscus. Orioles and summer tanagers are very fond of fruit such as ripe mulberries and strangler figs. This male orchard oriole is piercing a cape honeysuckle flower to obtain the nectar. This flower is derived from South Africa where its peculiar shape is well designed to accommodate the curved bills of the local sunbirds. Hummingbirds may be the only native birds that can reach the nectar the normal way down the corolla tube. Local birds and some insects such as honeybees pierce the base of the flower and steal the nectar.
So enjoy this amazing time of year when many thousands of spectacularly colored birds are passing through our yards. This is a temporary show that will quickly pass as the birds move to their northern breeding grounds so don't miss it.