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Watermelon Pond - Wildlife

gopher tortoise

The lands that comprise Watermelon Pond were purchased to conserve the gopher tortoise population found in the longleaf pine sandhills on the area. In addition to gopher tortoises, protected species such as gopher frogs, southeastern American kestrels, southern fox squirrels, sandhill cranes and Florida mouse occur here. As the area is restored, these and other species will increase in diversity and abundance.

Water levels within the wetlands fluctuate yearly and seasonally, creating ephemeral ponds that support frogs and other amphibians, fish and wading birds. Conditions are highly variable and dry or wet conditions may persist for extended periods.

Check out other species recorded from Watermelon Pond WMA, or add observations of your own, by visiting  Watermelon Pond WMA Nature Trackers Project.

Add your bird observations to the Watermelon Pond WEA eBird Hotspot.

Wildlife Spotlight: Southeastern American Kestrel

American kestrels, once called sparrow hawks, are the smallest and most common falcon in North America. Look for them on the conspicuous perches they prefer, telephone wires or dead trees on the edges of fields or other open areas. From these vantage points, kestrels swoop in to capture insects and small lizards and mammals, usually on the ground. They also hunt for prey by hovering like helicopters over favored habitat.

American kestrels are widely distributed from Alaska and Canada to South America. From mid-September to April, many kestrels from the eastern United State winter in Florida. In addition, a declining subspecies, the southeastern American kestrel, breeds in the state and is a year-round resident. It is difficult to distinguish the residents from the migrants, but a good rule of thumb is to consider any kestrel found in Florida between May and July to be the resident subspecies. Males and females are colorful and distinctive. The male has blue-gray wings, a rufous back and a broad, dark band near the end of a rufous tail. The female has rufous-and-black barring on its wings, back and tail. Both sexes have a black-and-white face pattern. Females are generally larger than males.

Kestrels need a cavity, ideally an abandoned woodpecker hole in a dead tree to reproduce successfully. However, they readily use man-made nest boxes. Historically, in the southeast, the fire-dependent longleaf pine/turkey oak sandhill habitat provided both large dead pines for nesting and open patches for foraging. Much of this ideal habitat has been lost to residential development and agricultural uses or has been degraded by prolonged periods of fire suppression. As a result, the southeastern American kestrel is listed as Threatened by the state. Check out 12 Steps for creating wildlife habitat at home.

Kestrel photo by Jack Rogers

Southeastern American Kestrel - © Jack Rogers