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How Nature Reuses Its Resources

I find it fascinating how resources are reused by nature in many ways. One example of how nature reuses things is a basic hole in a pine tree. I have really enjoyed watching the transformation of this pine tree cavity I’m about to show you.

In February of 2018, a fellow photographer found a pileated woodpecker nest in a preserve that’s not far from my home. He was kind enough to show me exactly where it was. You may recognize these birds as the inspiration for the cartoon Woody Woodpecker. They are large and loud.

A male pileated woodpecker hanging out at the entrance to his cavity
A male pileated woodpecker hanging out at the entrance to his cavity

I visited off and on for a couple of months, then one day in April I finally saw the nestlings.

Nestling pileated woodpeckers watching a parent approach the nest
Nestling pileated woodpeckers watching a parent approach the nest
Parent feeding one of the nestlings while the other looks on
Parent feeding one of the nestlings while the other looks on

By this time they were close to being ready to leave the nest, and sure enough, they were gone soon after. Many species of birds don’t continue to use the nest once their babies can fly.

I kept visiting, though, because it’s an awesome spot to find all kinds of birds (bobwhite quail, scrub jays, and lots of woodpecker species). So imagine my surprise when I checked the next in mid-July and discovered that it had been commandeered by a bunch of honeybees! I’d guess there are at least 100 honeybees visible in the photo below, and who knows how many inside.

Honey bees building their hive in the former woodpecker nesting cavity
Honey bees building their hive in the former woodpecker nesting cavity

Then two months later, in late September, check out what it looks like now!

Beehive can be seen poking out of the woodpecker cavity
Beehive can be seen poking out of the woodpecker cavity

That’s a beautiful honeycomb! There are still lots of bees around, indicating an active nest. What an awesome way for nature to reuse this nest cavity!

I also did some research online and found that pileated woodpeckers don’t tend to reuse the same nest from year to year, so hopefully these parents won’t be upset next year when they find they’ve been evicted.

Also: I half expect I’ll show up in a few weeks and find a brown bear going after the honey. (That’s a joke. But it does seem like the next step!) What other examples have you found where nature reuses something in a similar manner?

Bird Species

Species Spotlight: Florida Scrub-Jays

Many of us here in eastern North America know and love (or hate) the beautiful Blue Jay. But there are many other jays present in the US as well, and one of my favorites is the Florida Scrub-Jay.

About the Florida Scrub-Jay

At first glance, it looks similar to the more common and widespread Blue Jay – they have the same body shape and they’re both blue. But take a second look and you’ll see they really aren’t that close. A Florida Scrub-Jay has a blue head, wings, and tail, with the rest of its body being various shades of gray. It doesn’t have the strong patterning of the blue jay, nor the crest.

Florida scrub-jay at Cruickshank Sanctuary
Florida scrub-jay at Cruickshank Sanctuary

Jays are related to crows, ravens, and magpies – they are all members or the Corvid family of birds. Most jays have some blue on them, while crows are generally black, but don’t let that fool you. They are close relatives.

The special thing about the Florida Scrub-Jay is that it’s the ONLY bird that is endemic to Florida. That means not only is it a native, but it’s not found anywhere outside of the state. You can only find them HERE.

There are several other species of scrub-jays in the US:

  • the California Scrub-Jay, found in mainland California
  • the Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay, found in Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico
  • the Island Scrub-Jay, found only on Santa Cruz island off the coast of California

Before 2016, the California and Woodhouse’s species were considered one and the same, and were called the Western Scrub-Jay.

The different species’ ranges don’t overlap, so you know which one you’re looking at as long as you know where you are!

Scrub-Jay Habitat

A young scrub-jay, photo also shows the sandy soil common to the scrub habitat
A young scrub-jay, photo also shows the sandy soil common to the scrub habitat

The scrub-jays are named after the habitat they occupy – the Florida scrub. The ecosystem has sandy soils, low scrubby brushes and oaks, and maybe a few small stands of pine trees but certainly not a forest. The sandy soil allows the jays to cache nuts for the winter, an important part of their feeding process.

Scrubs were naturally maintained by periodic fire, generally caused by lightning. Now, with mankind encroaching on many scrub areas, the habitats are maintained by prescribed burns. Both work to prevent the scrub from being converted into forest when the trees grow too tall.

Florida scrub-jay at Cruickshank Sanctuary

Loss of this habitat has led to the Florida Scrub-Jay being added the endangered species list. The scrub areas must be maintained – and kept from being fragmented so that different populations of the species can interbreed – in order to conserve this special bird species.

Interacting with Florida Scrub Jays

The other special thing is that they’re really friendly and will often perch on your outstretched hand. But before we go any further I want to say one very important thing:

Do not ever feed scrub jays!

Many people are tempted to draw the birds in by bringing peanuts or birdseed. Please please do not do this! Why?

  1. It is illegal. I’ve seen that fines range from $175-$500.
  2. It’s bad for the birds’ health. They need a balanced diet, and eating too much seed or nuts isn’t good for their systems.
  3. They should not become reliant on humans to bring food. They need to retain their survival skills.

The great news is that you really don’t need to feed them to draw them in. Many of the birds are so friendly that they’ll land on your hand if you hold it up, or your head. Or if you’re not so lucky they will miss your head, land on your nose, and scratch your face. (That’s only happened to me once, though!)

My daughter with a Florida scrub-jay on her head
My daughter with a Florida Scrub-Jay on her head

If you’re tempted to give this a try, but a little scared, I suggest wearing a baseball cap with one of those little “buttons” on the top, the more brightly-colored, the better. Make sure the button is secured – no loose threads. You don’t want it being pulled off and possibly choking a bird.

Visit in the morning or late afternoon. During the heat of the day, the birds may be resting. They’ll be harder to find and less willing to land on your head or hand.

If a bird does come close, you’ll hear the flap of its wings. Try not to jump. The sound can startle you, but if you jump they may be scared in return a fly away. I’ve even had them fly up when I wasn’t trying. One recently ruined a photo I was trying to take of a Northern Flicker, because it landed on my head and scared me and I missed the flicker’s take-off completely.

Where to Find Florida Scrub-Jays

My favorite place to see the scrub-jays is at the Cruickshank preserve in Rockledge. That’s mainly just because it is close to where I live. Some other places that are good are:

I’ll add in more locations here as I write more posts about them.

I hope you have enjoyed this post, and I sincerely hope when you visit that you will follow the rules for the birds’ protection. Thank you!

Scrub-jay close-up
Florida scrub-jay closeup
Florida Birding Hotspots

Cruickshank Sanctuary, Brevard County

The Helen and Allan Cruickshank Sanctuary is located on Barnes Boulevard in Rockledge, Florida. It consists of 140 acres of pine flatwoods and scrub habitat.

The biggest attraction at this location is the large number of friendly Florida Scrub-Jay resident on the property. This bird is only found in Florida, and it is listed as threatened due to habitat loss.

Florida Scrub Jays

The Florida Scrub-Jay is endemic to Florida, meaning that it’s not found anywhere else. To put this in perspective, there are only 15 species of birds endemic to the entire United States! Because the Florida Scrub-Jay is so special, birders from all over want a chance to view or photograph them.

Florida Scrub-Jay at Cruickshank Sanctuary in Rockledge, Florida
Florida Scrub-Jay

The scrub jays at Cruickshank are used to people and generally quite friendly. There are a very important for interacting with Florida Scrub-Jays, at Cruickshank or elsewhere. It is this:

Do not feed the scrub jays!

Feeding them is illegal and had for their health. The great news is that you don’t need to feed them to draw them in. Just find a group of them, stand still, and hold up your hand and there’s a decent chance one will fly over and land on you. They also like to land on your head, so you might want to wear a hat.

Hiking the Trail

There is a dirt hiking trail that winds around the western side of the Cruickshank sanctuary. At the parking lot off Barnes Boulevard, there’s a map showing the trail. It’s just over a mile long, and a very easy hike. There are no hills, and no water to cross except a small wet area where there is a bridge.

However, you will want to be careful of roots. There are lots of them and they can trip you if you aren’t careful. Especially if you’re looking at birds instead of looking where you’re going!

There is also a platform at the northeast corner of the loop. It’s not very tall, but it’s a great place to sit and rest and maybe get a slightly higher view of the property. While you’re there, you can also walk just a bit further north to where the wooden fence is. That’s the border of the property with the Chelsea Park subdivision. The other side of the fence has a lot more pine trees and can be a great place to see woodpeckers year around, and in the winter, sparrows and warblers.

Prescribed Burns

If Cruickshank has recently undergone a prescribed burn, you may notice shorter vegetation and black, burned tree trunks. This is a good thing. Without prescribed burns, this property’s ecosystem would change. The scrub would turn into forest, and it would no longer support the scrub jays.

For more information on how fire helps ecosystems, I recommend the article Restoring Fire to Native Landscapes.

Off the Main Trail

There are also “trails” (I use that term lightly) that head east and aren’t marked on the map. I have walked there myself but I don’t do it often and never alone. I have been told there are sometimes homeless people in there, and I know there are coyotes! So I never go back there unless I’m with at least one other experienced hiker. I say this to warn you to take the same precautions.

Bird Species You May See

At first, Cruickshank may seem like a place you only go to see scrub-jays. After all, that’s what it’s known for, and they’re definitely the most obvious. Especially when they’re in the mood to visit with humans! But Cruickshank is home to many more birds.

A male Pileated Woodpecker nestling peeking out from his nest
A male Pileated Woodpecker nestling peeking out from his nest

While you’re hiking around, keep an eye out for Wood Ducks. There used to be two mating pairs of wood ducks, but the most recent burn destroyed one of their favorite trees. Since they, I have seen one pair but not both. They do tend to be up high in the trees, even though they’re ducks. That’s something fairly unique about wood ducks, and I assume that’s how they got their name. They even nest in dead trees.

Woodpeckers are fairly common. On any given day there’s a great chance you’ll see a Red-Bellied Woodpecker or two. Other species I see there regularly include Pileated Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers, and Yellow-shafted Northern Flickers.

Near the “crossroads” of the trail, there’s a flock of Eastern Towhees that hangs out. I hear them much more often than I see them, so learning what they sound like before you go can be helpful. But I have seen them on a handful of occasions.

I used to regularly see northern bobwhite on the property, but I haven’t seen or heard them in at least a year. They aren’t migratory, so I hope it’s only a coincidence.

If you look up in the sky, you’ll likely see raptors, including Osprey, Red-shouldered Hawks, Turkey Vultures, and maybe a Bald Eagle. There are sometimes Cooper’s Hawks in the sanctuary, and there’s a red-tailed hawk that hangs out on the power lines closer to the railroad tracks. (See warning above in “off the main trail” section.)

Great-horned Owls, parent with two owlets
Great-horned Owls, parent with two owlets

In the spring, both Osprey and Great Horned Owls usually nest on the western side of Cruickshank. Keep an eye on all of the osprey nests – they’re pretty easy to see. Great Horned Owls reuse nests from other species, so you could see either one in the Osprey nests.

Of course, you’ll often see common birds like Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Northern Cardinals, and Northern Mockingbirds, too. And during winter there are resident Gray Catbirds and Yellow-Rumped Warblers. You can also find birds migrating through – I have seen Cedar Waxwings, American Robins, Chipping Sparrows, and American Redstarts.

There are also lots of eastern cottontail rabbits and gopher tortoises around. I also once saw some kind of mouse, and I’ve come across red rat snakes (aka corn snakes) a couple of times.


If you visit, please remember not to feed the birds, don’t litter, and don’t bring your pets.

Florida Birding Hotspots

Viera Wetlands, Brevard County, Florida

Note: Viera Wetlands is currently closed to cars but usually open for walking or biking.

The Viera Wetlands is the more common name for property officially named the Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands. It is 200 acres of land divided into four “cells” (generally marshy wet areas) and one central lake, which is more open water.

Year-round species include most wading birds such as herons, egrets, limpkins, anhingas and cormorants. Bald Eagles are fairly common to see flying over, and you can often spot red-shouldered hawks, Coopers Hawks, and both Black and Turkey Vultures. Less commonly-seen but present are Sora and King Rails.

King Rail, Viera Wetlands

In the wintertime, the Viera Wetlands is home to many great seasonal birds as well. Both male and female Northern Harriers are fairly common, plus American Coots, Ring-necked Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, and Painted Buntings. You’ll also see Savannah Sparrows, Palm Warblers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Common Yellowthroats. And if you’re lucky you might even see a Marsh Wren (but you’re much more likely to hear them!)

Ring-necked Ducks during the winter at the Viera Wetlands
Ring-necked Ducks during the winter at the Viera Wetlands

The roads are generally well-maintained and, unless there’s been heavy rain, they’re usually open to cars (you can no longer drive at the wetlands). At other times, you may have to park and walk or bike the trails. In addition to birdwatchers, you’re likely to encounter families, walkers, and runners using the property as well. Pets are allowed, but exercise care as the property has lots of alligators, like most Florida wetlands!

The wetlands are adjacent to (well, part of, really) the area water processing plant. So sometimes there may be a smell you have to deal with. Sometimes it’s worse than others, so you just have to take your chances. If the wind is from the west, you probably won’t even notice it except maybe when you drive in. The treatment facility is on the east edge of the property.

Anhinga with Fish, Viera Wetlands
Anhinga with Fish, Viera Wetlands

The Viera Wetlands draws heavier crowds in January during the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival. They also have their own Viera Wetlands Festival in April (though it’s been cancelled this year, 2020, due to the coronavirus). Otherwise the people are usually fairly sparse and there’s plenty of room for birders and photographers to spread out.

To get to the Viera Wetlands, take Wickham Road west from Melbourne (or from I-95) past the housing developments, until you get to the large power lines. You’ll see the water treatment plant on the left. Go through the stop sign and then turn left into the wetlands. There’s plenty of signage to help you along.

There is no cost to enter, but donations are encouraged. The property is managed by volunteers, but funds are needed for maintenance and other needs.

Official Website

Florida Birding Hotspots

Black Point Wildlife Drive, Brevard County

Black Point Wildlife Drive is probably the most popular section of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge for birders. It’s a 7-mile-long road that can only be driven one way, and provides ample opportunity to view many birds in a variety of habitats.

About Black Point Wildlife Drive

There are a number of stops that offer room for cars to pull over and/or park. They are also good ways to identify birds within the community. For example, for the past three years there’s been an unusual snowy egret / tricolored heron hybrid that generally hangs out near stop 3. Stop 4 has a short trail with two observation platforms, and stop 9 has a 5-mile hiking trail called the Allan D. Cruickshank Memorial Trail, with an observation tower and actual restrooms.

Tri-colored heron
Tricolored heron in breeding colors at Black Point Wildlife Drive

One of the main reasons for its popularity is the fact that it’s so accessible. You can drive the entire 7 miles and never have to leave your car if you choose not too. This is perfect for those with limited mobility, but birding by car is also a popular method of birding. The roads aren’t paved, but they are well maintained and most cars can handle it just fine.

Of course, if you choose to exit your vehicle, the aforementioned trails offer great opportunities to see spots you can’t see from your car. Anywhere else, you can get out for better viewing opportunities. Just make sure you can park your car safely far enough for others to go around it. And watch out for alligators!

Reddish egret
The ever-popular Reddish egret at Black Point Drive

There is normally a $10 per car daily fee, or you can get in all year with a $25 pass that you can obtain from the Visitor’s Center. (Right now during the COVID-19 quarantine, this fee has been waived. But make sure to check before you go if necessary; don’t take my word for it because they will eventually reinstate it.)

Birds You May See

Birds that you are likely to see year round include gulls, herons, egrets, osprey, anhingas, cormorants, gallinules, and similar. You’ll also find shorebirds such as dowitchers, yellowlegs, sandpipers, and killdeer. The best birding is between October and April, when migrating flocks of ducks spend time all around the refuge. During the winter you’re also likely to see American white pelicans, belted kingfishers, and wrens, warblers, and other passerines. Of course, one of the highlights for out-of-state birders (and for us Floridians as well) is always the roseate spoonbill!

Bald eagle taken from my car on Black Point Wildlife Drive

If you’d like, you can pick up a brochure at the entrance that provides useful information. Just look for the dropbox to return it on your way out.

While you’re within the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, you may want to check out Biolab Road, Pumphouse Road, East and West Gator Creek, and the Scrub Trail. The visitors center is also nice, and during the winter you can often see painted buntings at their feeders.

Admission and Prices

At the time of this writing, fees are $10 per vehicle for daily access, or $25 for a yearly pass. You can pay the daily fee at a self-pay station at the entrance to Black Point Wildlife Drive. If you want a yearly pass, you’ll need to go to the visitors center. If you have a federal Duck Stamp ($25/year) it’s good for admission to all National Wildlife Refuges, including Merritt Island.

Gold Star Families and US military veterans receive free access to many national parks, wildlife refuges, and national forests. Find out more here.

Directions and Map

To get to Black Point Drive, you will want to cross the Indian River in Titusville, heading east on the Max Brewer Causeway, which is FL 406, also known as Garden Road in Titusville. Once you cross over the causeway, the road will fork with FL 402 going to the right, and FL 406 continuing to the left. In my opinion, however, it feels like you’re making a slight left turn. Then just keep going for about 1.4 miles, and look for the signs to the entrance on the left.

More at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

While you’re in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, check out some other places too. Playalinda Beach, part of the Canaveral National Seashore, is a great place to unwind and relax, as well as a great place to see wading birds and pelagic species flying off-shore. Biolab Road is another good drivable section with a chance to see lots of bird species. You can drive out Shiloh Marsh Road as well. Hiking opportunities include the Oak and Palm Hammock Trails, Scrub Ridge Trail, and the Pine Flatwoods Trail.

Of course, there’s so much more to see in the Space Coast, so make sure to spend lots of time in our wonderful area!

Bird Species Featured Posts

Species Spotlight: Swallow-tailed Kites

Every spring around March/April, Florida birders get really excited to see the first Swallow-tailed Kites come through. Because they migrate to South America, they aren’t here year-round. But when they are, they are such a delight to watch. 

Swallow-tailed Kites, or “STKI” for short, are easy to spot while flying. Their have a distinctive forked tail that gives them their name, and are colored distinctively white and black. I often see them while driving down interstates or other large highways – typically when I don’t have a camera handy or where it’s not safe to stop my car, even if I do!

Swallow-tailed kite in flight over Wildwood, Florida
Swallow-tailed Kite in flight over Wildwood, Florida

Kites are raptors, similar to eagles, hawks, and falcons. In fact, it was originally named the “Swallow-tailed Hawk” when first described in 1731. Raptors feed on small animals that they capture while hunting.

In fact, their feeding habits are one of the reasons photographers like them so much. While the birds are flying, they can catch insects that are also flying, and they eat them – still while flying. They also have sharp eyesight that lets them snatch lizards and other small animals out of trees.

Watching an STKI feeding in flight is a true joy. They bend their head toward their feet, which grasp the prey, and often perform what looks like crazy aerial stunts while eating. 

Swallow-tailed kite eating an insect while flying
Swallow-tailed Kite eating an insect while flying

The other cool thing about them is how they use their tail for maneuvering. They can twist it side to side, so that it’s on a different plane than the spread of their wings. 

We have a flock this year that roosts somewhere in Deland, or so I’ve been told. They show up daily at a certain location in Brevard County, right around 10am. Especially on weekends, you’ll see groups of photographers out trying to get the perfect shot of these magnificent birds,

As fall approaches, the kites are starting to migrate to their wintering grounds in South America. The Avian Research and Conservation Institute tags individual birds with transmitters and tracks them. Their website has information on their tagged birds and their locations.

Swallow-tailed Kites, like many birds, are suffering due to habitat destruction. They aren’t listed as endangered federally, but Wikipedia says that they are considered endangered by the state of South Carolina, as threatened by the state of Texas, and listed as rare by the state of Georgia. I hope this can be reversed or at least halted, as the swallow-tailed kite is one of my favorite birds.

These are only one kind of Florida kite birds – we also have Snail Kites, Mississippi Kites, and even a few White-tailed Kites in certain parts of the state. As you can see, Florida is home to lots of kite species!