Florida alligator farm provides safe home for hundreds of birds
Birds have to worry about a bevy of predators when keeping their nests safe. There are opossum, rodents, snakes and large cats, like bobcats. But at an alligator farm in Florida, the birds have discovered they're safe from their ground-based predators. But there is a cost there as well.
The St. Augustine Alligator Farm in Florida is filled with alligators, which of course is no surprise. But it’s also a major nesting area for herons, egrets, roseate spoonbills and wood storks.
Mostly there's a peaceful co-existence. The alligators keep the birds and their young safe from a host of predators. But there's a price to be paid for that safety.
If the birds drift too close to the water, the alligators turn them into lunch. Or dinner.
See a photogallery from the alligator farm at LOE.org.
Mark Seth Lender, the author of “Salt Marsh Diary – A Year on the Connecticut Coast," was moved to create beautiful prose from the scene that emerged in front of him at the farm.
"The canopy above is where the wealth resides, shimmering like the many-colored light of planets and stars — birds among alligators, by the hundreds of pairs! Danger is the rent. When rent is due, there will be no partial payments made," he wrote in a poem.
Bobcats and raccoons stay far away from the birds' nests, making it a perfect place to raise their young. As long as they're in the eggs and the eggs are in the next, they're virtually unapproachable by predators. But once the young hatch, or if the adult birds venture too close to the water, it can be over in a flash.
Lender calls it symbiosis.
"The birds come here because, from their point of view, it's relatively safe," Lender said. "The thing that they fear the most are nest predators."
Those are things opossums and raccoons, as well as mice, rats and squirrels. Those animals can't sneak into the nests, guarded by alligators.
"If they come, the alligators are going to eat them. And they do. The birds, however, are relatively safe from the alligators most of the time," Lender said. "Except, occasionally, when they come down to the water."
There's a tradeoff. Some birds wind up as alligator food, but the bulk are able to nest in relative safety. Lender said the proof of this is in the numbers. Some 600 bird pairs make the St. Augustine Alligator Farm their home.
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