There’s a new celebrity in town: the Smooth-billed Ani at Viera Wetlands! This bird is common on the Caribbean islands but the Florida population is on the decline. So when a single Smooth-billed Ani was spotted at Viera Wetlands, many birders flocked there to see him. He’s been hanging out at the entrance to the wetlands for the past couple of days. The bird is remarkably predictable, frequenting a particular patch of Brazilian Pepper on the north side of the water treatment plant. He’s also remarkably tolerant of the circus of cameras, scopes, and iPhones pointed in his direction.
When my dad and I first arrived at Viera, the ani was nowhere to be seen. So we spent a few hours driving through the wetlands, enjoying the best morning of photography I’ve had in a long long time. (More on that in an upcoming post!) Of course we checked for the ani on our way out, and there he was, perched up on top of a bush just a few feet from my car window. What an incredibly cooperative lifer!
I saw a similar bird, the Groove-billed Ani, at Lake Apopka a few years ago. The Smooth-billed Ani looks very similar, but he he lacks the indentions on his bill. The anis are very social birds, living in family groups of birds. Apparently they nest in a communal nest, with each female adding her eggs to the nest, and all females sharing incubation responsibilities. Kind of like a rookery but different!
The Smooth-billed Ani feeds primarily on insects, and he forages on the ground. So it wasn’t surprising that our bird spent a good amount of time hidden in the grass, but he popped up every 10 minutes or so. Cue the cameras! We spotted him in the Brazilian Pepper and on nearby bushes. If you haven’t ever seen an ani, you might mistake this guy for a crow or a large grackle. Until you hear him…this guy sounded like no bird I’d ever heard!
The rust-colored buildings in the distance didn’t provide the greatest background for our celebrity bird (see below image), but with a little bit of creative camera positioning (a.k.a. silly photographer contortions), I was pretty happy with the first image posted above. The bird’s tail was definitely worn, and perhaps explains why he ended up all by himself at Viera.
While it’s fun to see a rare bird, and unusual to have the opportunity to get really good photos of him, I kind of felt sorry for this guy. I hope he finds his way home soon. Or maybe he’ll bring his family to live at the Viera Wetlands – that’d be ok, too! :)
Want to learn more about nature photography at Viera Wetlands?
Check out my Viera Wetlands page with more information about the location, map, website, photography tips, etc. It is archived by date so you can see my images from previous visits. Maybe you'll be inspired for your own trip!
Planning a trip to Florida? Don't miss my Central Florida Bird Photography Locations reference guide!