| Fort Myers News-Press
Every few years, Florida is graced with the presence of a cuckoo normally found in Texas. This year, one was spotted in Cape Coral.
The groove-billed ani, a tropical bird normally found in southern Texas, was spotted in north Cape Coral on Jan. 5 near the site of the future Festival Park on Wilmington Parkway.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Karl Miller, an avian research scientist, said the groove-billed ani is a rarity in Florida, though they do show up once every few years somewhere in the state.
“They are probably birds that wander over from south Texas, where they are much more common,” Miller wrote in an email.
Eary Warren, a Cape Coral resident, is a lifelong birder and was able to locate the groove-billed ani on the evening it was originally spotted. He said Jim Boughton and Lesley Simmons were the two people to originally spot the rare bird.
“Every year we get a couple, usually in the Homestead or Everglades area,” Warren said. “It’s a big deal for Southwest Florida because is was the first one ever found in Lee County.”
Another local birder, Jose Padilla-Lopez from Fort Myers, was able to see the bird, too.
Padilla-Lopez is a pediatrician and couldn’t make it out right away, so he said he went out the day after it was identified during his lunch break and found it.
“It’s odd you would find that bird here,” he said. “But I’ve seen it a lot of places in South America.”
Padilla-Lopez, originally from Puerto Rico, started birding about 25 years ago when he was here in Florida. He said it’s like an addiction and he’s traveled throughout the Caribbean and places in South America, Africa and Thailand looking for rare birds.
The location in Cape Coral where the groove-billed ani was spotted is important for another bird as well, he said.
The currently undeveloped land provides habitat for the Florida scrub jay, he said, a species he thinks should be the official state bird.
Vincent McGrath, who’s been birding since childhood, said he headed out to the area as soon as he was notified by the local birding group.
McGrath, who said he has about 91,000 logs in his birding records, has only seen the groove-billed ani in Florida one other time, up in Fort DeSoto in April of 2013.
“If these rarities find their way to Florida, they are likely to spend the winter here,” McGrath said. “I doubt they continue their migration farther.”
The number of groove-billed anis in the United States are likely stable, according to the National Audubon Society’s website.
FWC tracks any imperiled species that may happen to show up in Florida, but the groove-billed anis are not imperiled, Miller wrote.
“In this case, this species is just one of the many bird species that is not imperiled but that shows up in our state from time to time, creating excitement for local birders.”
The birds typically are found in thick brush and overgrown pastures and feed on large insects. In the U.S. groove-billed anis are found mostly in southern Texas but are known to follow the Gulf coast during the winter.
Data from the popular birding website and phone application, eBird, shows sporadic sightings throughout Florida with most along the Panhandle.
Karl Schneider is an environment reporter. Send tips and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @karlstartswithk