Besides the ever-present ibis, herons, and various ducks one would expect to find, Tuscawilla Park has a surprisingly large selection of raptors that visit as well.
A raptor is a “bird of prey”-- one that hunts other animals. They tend to be on the larger size, but not all are large.
The American Kestrel is North America’s smallest falcon, standing 10 inches from the top of the head to tail. They are most easily spotted perching on wires along the roadside, watching for grasshoppers. They can hover in one spot for a moment or two before plunging to earth in pursuit of prey. They are a patchwork of colors; rusty brown, rich tan, dusty slate blue, with black spots and the typical falcon black moustache.
The most obvious raptors are the vultures. Vultures serve an important function as part of nature’s clean-up crew. There are two kinds of vultures in eastern US, and we have both. Turkey Vultures fly with wings held in a definite “V” shape, and they wobble a bit in the sky. They have a naked red head and a great deal of white under their wing feathers. Black Vultures hold their wings straighter, and only have white at the very tips of their wings, and don’t wobble. They have black heads and a rather short stubby tail.
Tuscawilla Park is fortunate to host Bald Eagles. In flight bald eagles hold their wings perfectly horizontally. Once it turns so the sun can hit it “just right”, the brilliant white head and tail will come into view signifying an adult Bald eagle. Teenagers will not have the white head.
Ospreys are also frequent customers at the Tuscawilla Park. These are large, but not as large as the eagle. They have a white body, with grayish feathers on the wings. Look for it’s black mask, and fine horizontal stripes on the tail. Hopefully you’ll see it try to catch a fish from one of the ponds.
The Swallow-tailed Kite usually arrives around mid-March, and stays until autumn. It is unmistakable! Swallow Tail Kites have shining white body, long slender wings with jet black flight feathers, and a long, forked, jet black tail. If you spot one soaring overhead, just stand and watch it as long as you can. You may just find yourself feeling a bit envious… wishing you weren’t earth-bound…. wishing you could fly like a kite.