The birds of the Everglades can prompt a chorus of oohs and aahs from visitors who glimpse them for the first time. Some have exotic names – like the Anhinga, which dives in the water for food, then stands and spreads its wings to dry them. Or the Roseate Spoonbill, with gloriously pink feathers and a spoon-like bill to search for prey. The majestic Great Blue Heron is here, and the elegant Snowy Egret with its bright yellow feet.
They are all magnificent to watch, but they also tell us a story. The latest chapter hasn’t been a good one and the ending is still a mystery.
The more than 350 species of birds seen in the Everglades are indicators of the health of this delicate ecosystem. Their dwindling nesting numbers shows that the system is in trouble. Nesting plummeted 28 percent overall in 2014 over the previous year, the latest count from the South Florida Water Management District shows. For specific species like Little Blue Herons, Tricolored Herons and the Snowy Egret, the drop is 83 percent; 42 percent; and 47 percent, respectively.
It means the multi-billion dollar Everglades Restoration Plan started in 2000 to restore the natural flow of water through the River of Grass is faltering. The flow was disrupted starting more than a century ago, with the intent to drain and claim the swampy land for agriculture and development. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built a series of dikes, canals and levees at mid-century. The resulting damage to the ecosystem, its hydrology, birds and other wildlife was severe.
Scientists say the continued and accelerated drop in nesting is a sign that restoration must progress much more quickly. Environmental groups and agencies like the Audubon Society, the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology and Everglades National Park are looking to “citizen scientists” to help document where the birds are and how their numbers change.
If the ecological deterioration doesn’t stop, the result may be irreversible, the water management district report says. But the future could be bright if historic water conditions can be restored.
Our Everglades Adventure tours bring you in touch with the Everglades, it’s beauty and the challenges it faces. We are committed to helping make the end of the story a happy one.