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Dinner at Ding Darling.

The peace and tranquility of the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge is suddenly interrupted by the sound of beating wings. The loud, raucous cries can only mean one thing - it's feeding time!

Named after cartoonist Jay "Ding" Darling, the refuge is located on Sanibel Island, off the west coast of Florida. Darling was an active conservationist who helped found the National Wildlife System, which protects birds and other animals.

Some of Ding's residents are master fishermen. The brown pelican actually does a belly-flop to catch its dinner. It smacks the water with such impact that it stuns the fish. It then uses the bottom half of its bill as a fishing net to scoop the stunned fish out of the water.

Some birds, such as seagulls, are scavengers. They prefer to steal their dinner. Seagulls will stay close to pelicans, even sit on the pelican's heads, waiting for a chance to snatch a fish!

The anhinga is another master fisherman. It spears a fish with its pointed beak, flips the fish into the air, and swallows it headfirst.

Most birds have oil on their feathers to keep them dry. But the anhinga's feathers absorb water. The extra weight helps it dive and chase fish under water.

The anhinga has several nicknames. It is called "water turkey" because of its long tail and "darter" because of its jerky swimming motion. When it swims under water, only its long neck is visible above the surface, earning the anhinga the name "snakebird."

The largest bird at Ding Darling is the great blue heron. It may stand as tall as four feet. The great blue heron is a patient fisherman. It stands still for long periods of time and waits for food to happen by. When a fish or frog comes along, the heron catches its meal in its scissorslike, yellow bill.

One of the most unusual and beautiful birds in the refuge is the roseate spoonbill. Because of its pink color, this bird is often mistaken for a flamingo.

The spoonbill swings his distinctive spoon-shaped bill from side to side under the water. When a fish touches its bill, a special nerve signals the bill to close, and the fish is caught.

Other beautiful birds found at the refuge are the egrets. The snowy egret is white with black legs and yellow low feet. During nesting season, beautiful, fluffy plumes appear on its back and head. Around 1900, these plumes were used to decorate ladies' hats. So many snowy egrets were slaughtered for the sake of fashion that they almost became extinct.

The snowy egret catches its meal by raking its feet through shallow water. When a startled fish or frog appears, the egret spears its prey with the point of its long, black bill.

Another beautiful bird you may see at the refuge is the white ibis. The ibis has bright red legs, a curved, red bill, and round, blue eyes. Ibises feed in groups, lining up and probing the shallow water with their bills. When a fish is caught, the ibis throws its head back and swallows the fish quickly, before its neighbor can snactch the fish.

With so many different birds and styles of fishing, most any time is feeding time at Ding Darling. Watching the aerial anglers can be as entertaining as it is educational.
COPYRIGHT 1995 Benjamin Franklin Literary & Medical Society, Inc.
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Copyright 1995 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:EarthWise; facts about the birds that live at the Ding Wildlife Refuge at Sanibel Island, Florida
Author:McCarthy, Pat
Publication:Children's Digest
Date:Oct 1, 1995
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