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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Birds Among Alligators

Air Date: Week of
(Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

The Alligator Farm in St. Augustine, Florida has its very own gator-filled swamp. In spring that swamp is also home to 600 pairs of nesting egrets, herons, wood storks and roseate spoonbills. Writer Mark Seth Lender was struck by the paradox of birds nesting among alligators.


GELLERMAN: As you might guess the St. Augustine Alligator Farm in Florida is filled with, that’s right: alligators. But it’s also a major nesting area for herons, egrets, roseate spoonbills and wood storks. Mostly there's a peaceful co-existence. The alligators keep the birds and their young safe from a host of predators. But as Mark Seth Lender reports, there is a price to be paid.


LENDER: Birds of many feathers weave and dance and settle in to guard their fragile eggs. All these nests, of many shapes fastened to branches thick and thin, high and low. Hidden in the tropical green of cypress. Sequestered in the cup-shaped pockets where palm fronds join their prehistoric trunks.

In plain sight on the main mast of a great live oak where only the widest wings set sail, or touch down. The swamp below is a remnant, reduced to a vanishing point reptilian and dark. The canopy above is where the wealth resides, shimmering like the many-colored light of planets and stars - birds among alligators, by the hundreds of pairs! Danger is the rent. When rent is due, there will be no partial payments made.

Soft, soft, silent s-curve of tail in sans serif lower case, only a ripple for a wake. Only eyes and nostrils show, no more remarked than a shelf of water-worn stones when water is low.


Ancient grace.

Drifts at the gate.

Waits… waits… waits…

Snowy egret dips too careless and too close, wingtips clipping water. Better to thirst. Better heat than trip those golden feet to cool in the sulfurous spring where an ancient device lies ready to be sprung… All is undone.

Roseate spoonbill on wings hued of sunrise, so confident in color and in form, the clapping bill a rounded gentleness, glides down to an untimely end. Jaws like vice grips, clamped in that unchanging alligator grin.

Bobcat and raccoon will not set foot here. Nor climbing possum, creeping snake. Every would-be robber of the nest fears the cut alligator takes. Yet great egret finds repose here, wood stork and little blue heron find retreat. Safe from the thieves they fear the most, while the Doorman only charges what he eats. Symbiosis by the bite, wing beat by wing beat.


GELLERMAN: Mark Seth Lender is the author of “Salt Marsh Diary – A Year on the Connecticut Coast.” You can feast your eyes on some toothsome photos, and hear a short interview with Mark Lender about his trip to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm, at our website LOE dot org.



Backstory – To hear a short interview with Mark Seth Lender about the St. Augustine Alligator Farm, click here

St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Zoological Park

Mark Lender’s website


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