Malcolm Mark Swan, conservation chairman of the Choctawhatchee Audubon Society, shared some advice with his fellow birders during a recent field trip to the Okaloosa Holding Ponds and Wright Landfill just north of Fort Walton Beach.
"The key to birding is to look at the bird's beak," Swan said. "It will tell you what it eats."
For example, a Cooper's hawk, which has a small, hooked beak, likes to feast on birds such as cardinals, bluejays, mourning doves and sparrows, he said.
This hawk's long tail "steers it well to catch birds on perches, or even flying birds," Swan said.
Swan, along with the other 350 or so members of the Choctawhatchee Audubon Society, appreciates the natural treasures of the Florida Panhandle.
"We live in a unique area that contains the highest biodiversity of flora and fauna and is home to more species of plants and animals than any other comparable region in the entire country," according to the group's website.
The Choctawhatchee Audubon Society is a nonprofit, volunteer organization that has served Okaloosa and Walton counties since 1976.
It is a chapter of the National Audubon Society and its mission is “to promote the conservation and wise use of all natural resources with particular focus on birds, other wildlife and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity.”
The chapter's regularly offered programs and field trips are free and open to the public.
Here are some upcoming activities:
From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 13, Audubon members and other volunteers will use games to help children learn to identify birds during the Explore the Outdoors Festival at Live Oak Landing in Freeport. Hands-on instruction in the use of binoculars and spotting scopes, as well as other activities, also will be offered. The festival is hosted by Walton Outdoors.
At 7:30 a.m. Oct. 20, Swan will lead a field trip to Veterans Park on Okaloosa Island.
On Nov. 1, the chapter will host a monthly program, “Backyard Snakes in the Florida Panhandle,” presented by the Jackson Guard.
Each monthly program takes place on the first Thursday of most months in Room 302 or 308/309 on the third floor of the Student Services Center (building 400) at Northwest Florida State College’s main campus in Niceville. Socializing begins at 6:30 p.m. and the program begins at 7 p.m.
Annual Audubon memberships start at $20. Members belong to both the local chapter and the National Audubon Society, and receive the national group’s magazine.
To learn more, visit the chapter’s Facebook page or its website, choctawhatcheeaudubon.org.