Wood storks, roseate spoonbills, ibises and egrets are among the many birds that fly, paddle and wade through the Everglades.
They draw visitors, particularly photographers, to the ecosystem. But the Everglades' birds are important for another reason: The health of wading bird communities says a lot about progress on Everglades restoration.
"Particularly the wood storks, the spoonbills and the ibises, they need really high densities of prey," said Mark Cook, a lead scientist and avian ecologist for the South Florida Water Management District. "To get those high densities of prey, it’s a function of hydrologic conditions."
Water quality, quantity, timing and delivery influence whether there are fish, insects and crayfish for the birds to eat. If there aren’t many birds, or if they’re not in their normal habitats, other species are likely struggling, too— and scientists take that as a sign restoration isn't going so well. But if there are a lot of wading birds, it means there’s progress.
Cook said he and his team will be releasing their annual report on Everglades wading birds in the next few weeks. Last year's report found the number of nesting wading birds had fallen to its lowest level in a decade.