Mysteries and Conundrums

February 22, 2019

I took a picture of a bluejay the other day that was splayed out on the ground in a peculiar fashion and appeared to be injured, but I wasn’t sure. So I kept watching and  I kept taking pictures –all the while wondering what was going on. Eventually, though, the bird moved—but only to spread itself  out  again a few feet away. I’d never seen this kind of  behavior in a bird before and was surprised to find out later that it is called  ‘sunbathing’ or ‘sunning’ and that many other birds do the same thing.

Blue Jay who appeared to be injured

“Bird sunning is the act of spreading out in full sunshine to expose plumage and skin to direct sunlight. Hundreds of bird species engage in sunning, and some of the most common birds that birders may see sunning include doves, pigeons, vultures, cormorants, darters, anhingas, tits, titmice, jays, and sparrows.” (

I’ve seen the anhingas here in Florida ‘sunning’ themselves in order to dry out their wings, but they never splay themselves out on the ground like this bluejay. They stand out in the sun with their wings spread as if they were greeting the day with open arms.  

Anhinga ‘sunning’ itself to dry its wings

On the very same walk as the sunbathing bluejay, I saw a type turtle that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. It was swimming along  in the creek under the bridge where I was standing. My Internet search led me to believe that it was a Florida Box Turtle, but a few things didn’t add up. The coloring and the patterning were a definite match, but the turtle I saw seemed bigger than the ones described and didn’t seem to have the ‘highly domed shell’ that’s typical for box turtles. Its apparent ‘flatness’, though, may have been because it was in the water and I was looking at it  from overhead. The thing that perplexed me the most, though, was that this turtle was swimming through fairly deep water and, according to what I found online, “The Florida box turtle…usually does not enter water deep enough to swim.” Maybe this one was an anomaly.

Florida Box Turtle (I think)

Both of these mysteries got me thinking about some of the other critters I have seen over the last few weeks here in Florida and I set off to find out something interesting or perplexing about each of them. Here’s what a found…

Wood Stork Fun Fact: The wood stork has earned the nickname “Preacher Bird” because they insist on the practice of standing around, as if contemplating life, after eating.

Tricolored Heron Fun Facts: When stalking prey, the Tricolored heron will go deeper into the water than any other heron. As the sun sets and the light is disappearing, herons become more frantic in their attempt to catch some prey before nightfall.

Pied Billed Grebe Fun Fact: The pied billed grebe has many unusual names including the American dabchick, devil-diver, hell-diver, pied-billed dabchick, and water witch! Rather harsh names, I thought, for such a sweet looking bird!
Limpkin Fun Fact: Limpkins are named after the way they walk.
These leggy birds seem to limp as they walk across uneven wetland surfaces–hence the name!
Brown Pelican Fun Fact:
The basic features of all pelicans have changed very little in the last 30-40 million years!

The other fun thing to know about pelicans is this limmerick that was written in 1910 by Dixon Lanier Merritt. I first learned it from my mother-in-law many years ago:

A wonderful bird is the pelican

His bill will hold more than his belican

He can take in his beak

Enough food for a week

But I’m damned if I see how the helican

This poem is actually quite accurate– a Brown Pelican’s pouch can hold more than its belly can! The pouch under its bill holds up to three gallons of water, while the stomach only holds about a gallon.

American Coot Fun Fact:
Coots are kleptoparasitic, which means that when they don’t feel like hunting for their own food, they’ll steal their meal from other birds!
Boat-tailed Grackle Fun Fact:
Males have very long tails that make up almost half their body length. They typically hold it folded in a V-shape, like the keel of a boat–hence the name!
Lesser Scaup Fun Fact: Lesser Scaups (and the almost identical looking Greater Scaups) are the most abundant diving duck in North America.

The End!

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