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Crooked Lake - Wildlife

Eastern meadowlark perching on stump

During the breeding season, male meadowlarks often sing from exposed perches.

Sandhills and scrub, located in the northeastern part of Crooked Lake WEA, are reliable habitats to watch for scrub lizards and gopher tortoises and their burrows. Protected plants such as cutthroat grass and Britton’s beargrass grow here. Basin swamps and depression marshes are home to species such as sandhill cranes, wood storks and a variety of wading birds.

Check out other species recorded from Crooked Lake WEA, or add observations of your own, by visiting the Crooked Lake WEA Nature Trackers project.

Add your bird observations to the Crooked Lake WEA eBird Hotspot.

Species Spotlight: Gopher Tortoise

Within the dark, cool, tunnel-like burrows of the gopher tortoise, more than 350 kinds of organisms find food and protection from predators, temperature extremes and fire. The list includes insects, snakes, frogs, mammals, and birds, some of which could not survive without the gopher tortoise. This reptilian earthmover uses its strong, flattened forelimbs like hoes to excavate the burrow, approximately 15 feet long (but may be more than 40 feet long) and seven feet deep. Females lay eggs in May and June in the sandy mounds surrounding burrows or in nearby open, sunny spots.

The gopher tortoise is found in parts of all 67 counties in Florida. Unsuitable habitat and increased urbanization restrict its distribution in the southern parts of the peninsula. Though found in a variety of habitats, natural stands of longleaf pine and scrub oaks are favored. Loose, sandy soils for burrowing, an abundance of low-growing herbs for food, and open, sunny areas for nesting characterize the best habitats.

Over the last 100 years, the gopher tortoise population has been reduced by an estimated 60-80 percent. Habitat loss or destruction from urbanization, agriculture and forestry practices; human predation; and habitat degradation from the exclusion of fire are the primary culprits. In the past, gopher tortoises in Florida were captured for use in tortoise races or were killed and eaten. Such harvesting is prohibited today and the tortoise is listed by the state as a Threatened species, protected under state law. The gopher frog, eastern indigo snake, and Florida mouse are some of the other state or federally listed burrow residents.

Regular prescribed burning is essential to provide tortoises with open sites for nesting and with low growing grasses and herbs for forage. Protection of the gopher tortoise and its habitats extends a measure of protection to hundreds of other creatures as well.

Gopher tortoise emerging from burrow

Regular prescribed burning benefits gopher tortoises and the many organisms that share their burrows.