Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Is That A Flamingo?

Roseate spoonbill -  Platalea ajaja

 Is that a Flamingo you are taking pictures of? That is a question I hear on a regular basis every time I visit the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida. What makes Ding Darling NWR such a great place is that it is a drive through wildlife park, and this allows many people to drive up and be very close to the many species of birds that are found in the refuge.  With Sanibel Island being a prime vacation spot, you have quite a few visitors to the refuge that might otherwise not be inclined to visit a wildlife refuge. With a polite smile and a suppressed laugh I say "No, those are Roseate Spoonbills". While many species of the birds have grown accustom to the human presence, Spoonbills are much more leery and tend to stay farther away. So I and many other photographers need to use some pretty big lenses on our cameras to bring them in close. This attracts attention and brings out the questions when they see the pink plumage. So for someone that is not familiar with birds, they assume the birds are Flamingos.
Spoonbill at Ding Darling NWR
Once you identify the birds as spoonbills, you can usually count on numerous followup questions. While I am at times amazed at some peoples total lack of knowledge, I do enjoy helping people out and giving them some useful information.  When you tell people that Flamingos are not really native to the U.S. they don't want to believe you. They just assume that since they have seen millions of the plastic ones in residential yards, they actually are native residents here.

Captive Caribbean Flamingos in a preserve
When you look at the birds plumage you can see how people can make the assumption that they are Flamingos. But that is where the similarity ends. One look at their overall body structure and beaks makes identification easy. In my recent trip Ding Darling NWR I spent five days there photographing birds. I was asked at least a dozen times. "Are those Flamingos?" While I was photographing birds one morning I was talking to one of the numerous volunteers who help assist people with information and show them birds through spotting scopes. I asked him how many times he is asked about the Flamingos. He laughed and said at least 10 times a day.

Caribbean Flamingo

Roseate Spoonbill
Both Species are beautiful birds in there own uniques way. Many species of birds look very similar, and many times it takes an expert to make an identification. But in this case, even I know the difference between a Spoonbill and a Flamingo.

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