Where the Wild Things Are

Has Nature Returned to the Gables, or are we Just Paying More Attention?

You mostly notice it with the birds. An Eastern screech owl sitting on a stop sign. A peregrine falcon glowering from a roof’s edge. A jump in the volume of music by American songbirds like redstarts, grackles and cardinals. But it’s there: A noticeable increase in the presence of wild nature in Coral Gables.

One of the unexpected silver linings to the global pandemic has been a resurgence of wildlife, from coyotes cruising the streets of San Francisco to long-horned sheep invading Welsh towns. “In fact, the reduction in noise and traffic will allow more species to forage in areas that they will not normally go,” says Dr. Mauro Galetti, director of the John Gifford Arboretum at UM.

On the other hand, says Galetti, we just may be growing “more aware of the biodiversity that lives in our own garden.” We are also in the middle of several springtime bird migrations, he says. Perhaps, but residents have been posting uncanny numbers of animal sightings on neighborhood social media. 

“Now that we all have time to ‘smell the flowers’ I’ve begun to notice just how many critters abound in our urban neighborhoods,” wrote Al Perez of Granada East on the Nextdoor app. Residents were quick to pitch in. Increased sightings of mammals included: raccoons, opossums, squirrels, and foxes. Yes, foxes. Reports are up of these shy, clever creatures.

The Eastern Screech Owl in Coral Gables
The Eastern Screech Owl

The local legend is that Coral Gables’ population of foxes – perhaps four dozen – descended from the red variety of their species, hunted for sport by elite guests at the Biltmore in 1926. Wildlife biologists say that is nonsense, that our locals are a very urbanized descendant of the Florida gray fox, surviving here as much from pilfered pet food as from catching wild rodents.

Other species have also enjoyed the pandemic’s reduction in traffic, light pollution, and noise. Manatees, for example, have been premiere guests at the Biltmore, enjoying the quiet canal waterways around the tennis courts and golf course until those reopened. Even our winged insects (despite Miami-Dade’s mosquito spraying) made a small comeback, including more Cassius blue butterflies, gulf fritillary butterflies, dainty sulphur butterflies, sleepy orange butterflies, zebra longwing butterflies, and monarchs.

Regardless of whether there are more creatures about, or we are just more aware of their presence, the lesson is clear: “Wildlife is better off without human traffic and noise,” says UM’s Galetti.