The American alligator is a fierce and patient predator. In the Low Country to Northern Florida the winters get cold enough for them to really go into brumation and stop feeding altogether. They just tend to disappear during the short winter. You’ll spot them on occasion as the temperature hovers above the 60s and 70s for a few days. At this point they’re generally not feeding.
As Spring approaches, the days get longer and the temperatures rise steadily above 70, they come out of brumation and start basking in the Sun to warm back up. This is when they appear to be in greater numbers on the banks of rivers, swamps and marshes. It’s a time when they may even be more approachable as they really don’t want to go back in the cold water. Regardless, approaching an alligator is never a good idea. They’re quick, unpredictable and protected by Federal and most State Laws…
They’re simply basking in the sun to warm up from the winter chills. Even on a cloudy day, the warm air is better than the colder water. This is a time when feeding slowly becomes a priority. Mating season is just around the corner and they will need to be prepared.
In the field there are many stories as to what alligators will eat or not. Although their diet is well documented, you hear dozens of stories, some turning alligators into picky gastronomical eaters. The truth is the easiest meal is the first meal an alligator will go for. It doesn’t matter if it’s a dead animal on the river bank or if it’s got to go chase after it and hunt it down.
One of the biggest rumors I’ve heard is alligators won’t eat birds, they apparently can’t digest them, the feathers…? The well-documented truth is they do eat birds.
As alligators absorb all the Sun the late winter spring-like conditions have to offer, it’s very common for a variety of smaller herons to land near or on alligators. Many approach in flight and rarely see them as they land, some make last-minute adjustments as they realize they may be making a lethal mistake. A still alligator can easily be mistaken for a log in water as they are often found partially submerged.
In fact this young Blue Heron appeared while I was observing an alligator. It stopped dead in its landing as it was about to land right on the alligator itself. It hovered quickly as it seemed to take one last look at its new perch and then decided to land about 10 feet away. Even at a young age this heron had gained valuable survival experience.
While temps may hover in the 70s in the Mayport area of Northern Florida, a quick two-hour drive south to Cape Canaveral and you’re experiencing temperatures in the 90s. This causes a large variation in the alligator’s behavior in what is just a short flight for some birds.
This is where my story takes a drastic turn. Less weary than my little blue heron, a Glossy Ibis met a different faith. Basking in the sun coming out of brumation, it was a toss of the dice if the alligator was feeding or not. The alligator was also well camouflaged on the ground under the shade of some scattered leaves. I’d already seen dozens of birds landing on and next to alligators without a single alligator twitching. This one was the first of a series of unlucky creatures that will fall prey to alligators this season.
In a blink of an eye it was actually over. The ibis was in the gator’s mouth, it had for the exception of a wing tip, completely disappeared. The medium sized 7 to 8-foot alligator laid still, ibis in the mouth for a few minutes and then proceeded into the water as it slowly vanished into the murky waters of the swamp.
This was actually the first time I’d seen an alligator feed in winter. It was also the first time I witnessed them eating a bird in real life. Although it can take 15 minutes to half an hour to make it through the shell of a turtle, the ibis fell prey quite rapidly and calm was returned to the swamp within minutes.
I’d like to extend a BIG THANK YOU to Dr. Todd Newsom of Atlantic Foot and Ankle Specialists for Sponsoring our Coastal Georgia an Florida Wilderness Adventures. Dr. Newsom is caring for his patients every day. Atlantic Foot & Ankle Specialists in Pooler implemented several changes at their office – social distancing/patients go straight to the treatment rooms and their constant sanitizing of the rooms/office. Screening the patients and immediate availability for emergency patients are just a few. Please call their office if you have any concerns. Conveniently located in Pooler, GA right by the Tanger Outlets, 114 Canal St #703, Pooler, GA 31322.