ALACHUA COUNTY – One of the great pleasures of Florida birdwatching is the white ibis (Guara alba). In the evening, they tend to pick insects in lawns and fields, and in most cases are not afraid of humans, and so come in close enough so you can get a good look. Often, they are in groups; if you are lucky, you can spy a mother and her young.
The birds are pure white, with tips of several outer primary colors and black. The bird has a bare face, bill and legs. It nests in in thickets (the mangrove best), and it builds nests from twigs. Eggs are from three to five and graying blue and whitish or blotched or spotted with dull yellow and umber brown.
One of the most celebrated early colonies of white ibis was Bird Island in Orange Lake. The National Association of Audubon Societies purchased the sanctuary as a bird reservation, and still owns the property. It was one of the few that survived the dreaded era of the plume hunters.
The reserve was purchased In 1910-11, when Florida Audubon Society member Oscar Baynard encouraged the National Audubon Society to purchase the property in Alachua County. It was the nation’s first Audubon sanctuary.
The noted conservationist and bird authority T. Gilbert Pearson wrote about the colony in his authoritative Birds of America, published in 1936 by Garden City Publishing. Pearson grew up in Archer, Florida and led the Florida Audubon Society for the next 24 years. Wrote Pearson, who was also a president of the National Association of Audubon Societies:
Those years when the water is not too high to cover their food white ibises to the number of about nine thouusand pairs come here to breed, as do the egrets, herons, and Water Turkeys that are present every season. Their nests are built in the low alder tres that cover the island and are placed at all hieghts from one to 15 feet.
Natural enemies include vultures and moccasins; wrote Pearson:
This island literally swarms with water moccasins in summer. They take many of the eggs and perhaps some of the newly hatched young.
These birds fly in long ranks and make a very pretty sight when towards evening they begin coming in from their feeding grounds whihch are often many miles away.
To see more, look at the website of the Alachua Audubon Society