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As much fun as it is to do, especially with children, naturalists say we really shouldn’t feed bread to the white ibises and Muscovy ducks that live at DeLand’s Earl Brown Park, shown at left. But, then again, the Muscovys — shown up-close below — really shouldn’t be here at all (see story below). In the wild, Muscovys would eat small fish, plant materials, amphibians and reptiles, while the ibises would dine on crabs, snakes, frogs, insects and other invertebrates they could dig from the soil with their special curved beaks.

Muscovy ducks

Muscovy ducks are a common sight in DeLand. Their red wattle  — the part of the bird’s head that is not feathers — and monochromatic feathers make them especially easy to see hanging around Earl Brown Park or Painter’s Pond waiting for their next meal.

These ducks are not native to DeLand, or even Florida, but may have pushed out local birds, all in pursuit of a nice watering hole and tasty food.

“Just like mallards and some other birds that hang around local ponds, they’re prolific,” West Volusia Audubon Society member Eli Schaperow said. 

Unlike many invasive species that now call Florida home because people brought them here, Muscovy ducks likely made their way up from Mexico or the southwestern U.S. on their own. It’s no one’s fault that these ducks found a home in DeLand, but their arrival has reduced the biodiversity of places like Earl Brown Park. 

West Volusia Audubon Society Vice President and Conservation Chair Stephen Kintner said watering holes without Muscovys have stronger biodiversity.

“Any species like this tends to force out other competitors that may be competing for the same food source. They’re not particularly aggressive, they’re just there. Eating it up,” Kintner said. “If you go to Audubon Park near Osteen, I’ve never seen a Muscovy there. We’ve counted over 200 species of bird with just a pond the size of Earl Brown Park.”

Not a fan of Muscovy ducks? They’re here to stay. But one thing you shouldn’t be doing, regardless of how you feel, is feeding them bread, or really anything for that matter.

“Let’s say Noah goes out every day and feeds these ducks food but then you stop — you move away, get a job — that causes stress,” Kintner told The Beacon. “They got used to that.”

Put simply, “Nature handles it itself,” Schaperow said.

Native? Not really. But Muscovy ducks aren’t going anywhere.

BEACON PHOTO/MARSHA MCLAUGHLIN

Other invasive and/or nonnative species

Muscovy ducks aren’t the only nonnative species to live right under our noses in Volusia County.

Another exotic bird now commonly seen around Volusia is the cattle egret, a small white bird that originally hailed, Schaperow said, most likely from Africa. There are also house sparrows — the small brown birds seen often in parking lots — and starlings, both of which made their way to Florida from Europe. 

Both house sparrows and European starlings were intentionally introduced by humans around the 1900s. In fact, European starlings in North America are descended from 100 birds set loose in New York’s Central Park by Shakespeare enthusiasts.

“Percentage-wise, there’s more of our native birds than not,” Schaperow said. “But in America, there’s a number of birds that somehow or other got here.”

Of course, there are plenty of species that ended up here by way of exotic pet ownership. South Florida residents are very familiar with iguanas, and the Everglades has a python problem. Locally, Stephen Kintner still observes plenty of invasive species.

From nonnative tortoises that can outeat the native gopher tortoises, to snakes that definitely shouldn’t be in Volusia County, he sees quite a bit.

“I saw a Florida box turtle on the ridge in Lyonia. I’m assuming someone came out and dropped him off. We had an African spurred tortoise in the reserve, and we tried to capture him repeatedly,” Kintner said. “Why do we care? This is the issue with any exotic invasive: They tend to outcompete the native animals and plants and whatever was here.”

Kintner is the founder and operator of Lyonia Environmental Center in Deltona, one of few wildlife refuges in the state maintaining proper Florida scrubland to give scrub jays a home.

As with animals, invasive plants can gobble up resources available to native plants, and hurt a habitat’s biodiversity. 

“The problem with invasive species is they crowd out native species,” Erin Miceli told The Beacon

This affects not only plants, but animals who depend on those disappearing native plants.

Miceli is a DeLand-based horticulturist. She specializes in building gardens that promote native Florida biodiversity. 

SECRET LOCATION — Horticulturist Erin Miceli enjoys a stand of Sarracenia leucophylla, an
endangered plant, somewhere in the Florida Panhandle, she said. Because the plant is so endangered,
Miceli told The Beacon, their locations aren’t revealed, to guard against poaching.

To make sure native insects, fish and other species flourish, she said the best thing a homeowner can do is plant Florida native or Florida-Friendly plants

Worried that something in your yard may be invasive? Miceli recommended the invasive-plant list maintained by the Florida Invasive Species Council, a nonprofit organization promoting Florida native agriculture. 

The invasive-plant list categorizes plants as Category 1, or plants that have demonstrated an ability to crowd out native plants and damage ecosystems, and Category 2, or plants that, while not native, do not yet pose a threat to the same extent. 

Also, a plant that is a Category 2 in South Florida, Miceli explained, could be a Category 1 here because of differing temperatures.

Some invasive plants are easy to recognize, and some of them are all over, too. One example is air potatoes, with heart-shaped leaves and potato-looking tubers that people definitely shouldn’t eat, according to the University of Florida. 

You can also buy invasive plants at Walmart or Lowe’s, like Mexican petunia, or Ruellia simplex

A common refrain Miceli hears is, “It’s not invasive in my backyard!” but no matter how pretty the Mexican petunia is in a backyard, the elements, birds and insects will make sure those seeds end up somewhere else; somewhere people aren’t keeping an eye on maintaining native plants.

A quick Q&A

What is considered native?

Native flora is defined as anything present at the time Europeans arrived in North America, i.e., 1492 onward (“in fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue … .”).

Can native plants be invasive?

Invasive plants are generally considered those that are 1) nonnative and 2) spread to the point they disrupt existing plant communities.

Native plants can also disrupt existing plant communities because of the introduction of human pollutants, such as excess nitrogen and phosphorus.

Native plants that overtake an ecosystem are instead categorized as “opportunistic plants.”

Are all nonnative plants invasive?

Nonnative plants can often be invasive, because they do not have natural predators or existing competition. Not all nonnatives are invasive however — if they exist long enough in harmony with native plants, these plants are considered “naturalized.”

Why do so many invasive plant species originate in Asia?

Volusia County is located within the 29th parallel north, a circle of latitude that also crosses portions of Asia. Well-established plant species in countries on the 29th parallel, including China, can become well-established in portions of Florida because of similarities in climate and landscape.

And don’t forget… Goldenrain trees

One easily spotted nonnative is the goldenrain tree, a medium-size popular landscaping tree that provides highly visible fall colors in Central Florida. 

While this plant has invasive characteristics, as long as caution is used toward its tendency to spread, it is not considered a problem species.

UF/IFAS PHOTO A goldenrain tree in bloom.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for the opportunity to read both the articles on Gopher’ habitat and this one as well.
    Well written and easy to understand. It’s so important for the survival of our biodiversity to educate people of what’s actually happening to it and why.

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