No matter which way you turn at the University of Miami, you are likely to see various animals flying from tree to tree, lurking under the surface of lake Osceola or foraging in the grass of the Foote Green. While many of these animals are native to Florida, some are invasive species that have made their way to Florida from Caribbean islands, South America or Central American countries with similar climates. Either way, all of these organisms are crucial to the success of the ecosystem which makes our campus so unique.
One of the most common species to spot strolling or flying around campus are birds. You may hear their screeching calls or catch a glimpse of their beautiful wings. Here are four birds to keep a lookout for:
Our beloved mascot Sebastian as well as his fellow ibises are not an uncommon sight around the UM campus. You can see these small white birds with orange legs and long, curved orange beaks in groups, making their way through the grass and shallow waters. The Cornell Lab described the ibis as a marsh bird native to the Florida Everglades, known to use their beaks to hunt crustaceans, small fish and insects. The ibis is known to be the last bird to seek shelter before a hurricane and the first to reappear afterward, making Sebastian a meaningful mascot to us here at the U.
If you have ever sat on a glider and have found yourself unable to focus due to the loud calls of a nearby black bird, you probably were encountering a grackle. The Cornell Lab said that grackles are taller and longer-tailed blackbirds. Male grackles often have an iridescent patch on their wings, while the females do not, and are smaller in size. Grackles are often found in marshes, but these birds feed on anything from other birds to corn to garbage. If you want to see a grackle, a good place to check is the Lakeside patio.
Pelicans are large, white and grey, yellow beaked, carnivorous birds. If you want to spot a pelican, look closely for their iconic throat pouches. National Geographic states that when full, pelicans can hold up to 3 gallons of water in their throat pouch. Their pouches filter out water, leaving behind fish and small marine organisms for the pelican to consume. Brown pelicans have adopted a method of diving into the water to catch fish. Do you want to see one of these birds with your own eyes? Try lake Osceola or out on the dock at RSMAS.
The Great Egret is likely the bird you saw leisurely strolling down a path on campus on its long skinny legs. These birds are characterized by a white body, a long skinny neck, an orange beak and long black legs. The Cornell Lab describes the Great Egret’s diet as consisting of small fish, insects and lizards. They are usually looking for their next snack when seen standing still on two legs. They can often be spotted waiting for lizards that are trying their best to camouflage themselves on tree trunks. They sometimes will swim or hover over water to catch fish for a meal as well.
Here at UM, it is not an uncommon occurrence to spot some iguanas hanging out in the grass by Lake Osceola, especially by the Frost School of Music. Although these dinosaur-like animals can be extremely fascinating, they are an invasive species native to Central America, tropical regions of South America, and some Caribbean islands, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Due to their invasive nature and impacts on the local flora, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reports that Florida permits the killing of these animals on private land, and in 25 public lands in South Florida. Green Iguanas are particularly susceptible to the cold and can freeze and fall out of trees on winter days, something many Canes have seen. It isn’t the case at every college that you might want to watch your head for some falling iguanas.
Britannica reported that there are more than 250 known species of this small lizard that is related to the iguana. Whether brown, green, blue, red or yellow, these lizards can be spotted all over UM’s campus and Miami itself. You may have to really look, as many of these lizards can change color in order to camouflage themselves. Don’t forget to watch your step, as these small, scurrying animals are easy to accidentally step on while walking to class.
Manatees, often colloquially referred to as the “sea cow”, are large marine mammals that feed on sea grasses and algae. These herbivores have an average life span of 40 years, and can grow up to 13 feet long, according to National Geographic. Manatees can live in salt or freshwater and are known to prefer the calm waters of bays and canals over the open ocean. For this reason, lucky Canes may spot these large animals in the Canals on campus, or even in the brackish waters of Lake Osceola. RSMAS students may get to spot them in the shallow waters of Virginia Key.
Overall, there is a lot more to the UM campus than palm trees, residence halls and academic buildings. Nestled within the greenery and waters of Coral Gables are living, breathing creatures that have histories much longer than ours. Next time you spot one of these creatures on campus, remember some of these facts and you will be sure to impress your friends.
words_lillian engelhard. photo_ainsley vetter