Predators are the greatest threat to nesting birds. Some brave and smart long-legged wading birds in the Florida Everglades have come up with a clever solution to this problem: building nests above alligator habitats. Believe it or not, it’s a win-win solution for both species. A recent study, conducted by the University of Florida has demonstrated this mutually beneficial relationship.
Herons, spoonbills, ibises, storks and egrets have lost nests, eggs and fledglings to predatory raccoons and opossums. By nesting in tree limbs above the alligators, marauding predators are deterred. The alligators chase and eat the predators. Eggs are allowed to hatch and fledglings survive. Not all survive, however, as the alligators feast on dropped eggs, dislodged babies and fledglings knocked out of the nest Alligators are also known to attack adult birds and nests. It's a swampy is survival of the fittest.
Lucas Nell, a graduate student at the University of Florida, who helped conduct the research, wrote,
Our study is the first to demonstrate a mutually beneficial relationship between nesting birds and crocodilian: nesting wading birds provide nutrition for alligators that, by their mere presence, create predator-free space for birds. Crocodilians and nesting birds co-occur throughout the tropics, so these may be globally important ecological associations.
The study compared the body condition of 40 female alligators living with and without nesting colonies in a similar habitat. They caught them by noose and measured their mass and length and drew blood samples. The alligators that lived with the nests weighed an average of six pound more than those who did not. Thus, the two species successfully co-exist. This sounds like a much better deal than the alligators get when they work as bodyguards for drug dealers.
Further studies are needed to analyze a wide variety of alligators living in different habitats. This lends credence to the phrase, “See you later, alligator.”