Wildlife in the Urban Tropics

Coyotes. Yep, we’ve got those. There have been many legitimate sightings in the southern part of Coral Gables near the USDA facilities off Old Cutler. Peacocks. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, we’ve got plenty to share. Iguanas. As anyone living near a mangrove can tell you, they fall out of the trees if the temps drop low enough. In the meantime, they run wild pretty much anywhere there is water. Crocodiles. Check. Reportedly more docile than alligators, the American Crocodile can average 15 to 17 feet long. They are a threatened species and protected, appearing in Deering Bay Golf Course and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens, among other locales (some dozen or so have been tagged). Keep your distance. Foxes. They can be seen throughout the Gables, and after almost being eradicated by the spread of canine distemper a few years ago, they seem to have made a comeback. And just look into the bay, lagoons, and waterways to see manatees, wild dolphins, spotted rays, and sharks, just to name a few of our water-dwelling neighbors. Coral Gables, of wild critters. Probably our most unique wildlife is the Florida Bonneted Bat, a rare and endangered species first found in Coral Gables 25 years ago. Its favorite habitat around the Granada golf course was carefully monitored and protected, and today, the bat has been seen in other areas of Miami-Dade and across the state from Naples to Central Florida. However, today, spotting one here is a rare event.

Wildlife in the Urban Tropics
The Anhinga Bird Spearing Its Prey

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) protects and manages 575 species of wildlife and 700 species of salt and freshwater fish throughout Florida. Ricardo Zambrano, an FWC regional biologist, said spotting the rare bat would have to be his top wildlife sighting. “It was in response to the public that this colony of endangered bats was first identified,” says Zambrano.

And did someone mention snakes? Native species like the yellow rat snake have still managed to survive, while invasive species of constrictors have come in from the Everglades and breached the Gables’ boundaries. An otter was an unusual sight on the Deering Bay Country Club Golf Course where residents participated in a wildlife inventory a few years ago, identifying more than 50 types of birds, 10 mammals, and 12 varieties of reptiles. Another rare sighting reported was the strikingly beautiful Roseate Spoonbill.

Blue land crabs used to surge across Old Cutler not too many years ago. Now, residents are lucky to spot a crab scurrying into one of their three to five-foot-deep burrows. Florida’s largest semi-terrestrial crabs are now protected by the FWC and require a license to catch. When people think of turtles in South Florida, they often think of large sea-going turtles like loggerheads and leatherbacks that nest annually on nearby Atlantic coast beaches. But along the waterways, lakes, and ponds of Coral Gables, you can find many types of shy land turtles. One of the most distinctive is the Florida softshell turtle with its conical pointed snout. They are protected from capture or sale, and, just like snapping turtles, they can bite, so don’t get too close.

Iguana on Rock Center: Red-masked Parakeets
Florida Softshell Turtle by Karen F. Buchsbaum
Wildlife in the Urban Tropics
Crocodile by Don Elliot

Tropical birds are abundant, with transient populations like wood storks passing through and invasive species like Egyptian geese and red-masked parakeets in residence year-round. The parakeets, originally from Ecuador and Northern Peru, were originally brought in as pets during the mid-1980s and have since evolved into an established invasive species.

The Egyptian goose is really a shelduck – a cross between a goose and a duck. Although considered sacred by the ancient Egyptians in their native Nile Valley, many in South Florida consider it a nuisance. They mate for life and raise their broods together, becoming aggressive and very vocal when protecting their chicks.

“The invasive species of birds have not been a problem for native wildlife,” says Zambrano. He also cautioned that all animals will generally avoid humans and, “if you see any, remember we are living in shared territory. Of course, any sick animal is a problem and should be avoided and reported to FWC.”

Native herons, egrets, ibis, anhinga, stilts, osprey, hawks, pelicans, and more can be seen throughout the Gables, and have established rookeries along the area’s mangrove shoreline. Getting out on a kayak is a great way to explore their habitat. While some of these birds do prey on other avian species, most dine on local fish.

Great Blue Heron With Walking Catfish by Don Elliot
Wildlife in the Urban Tropics
Great White Heron
Wildlife in the Urban Tropics
Tri Colored Heron. by Don Elliott

One unusual catch for this great blue heron is the walking catfish. Native to Asia, the walking catfish is another invasive species and is illegal to own, buy, sell, or transport without a permit. This fish can breathe air and wiggle their 12 to 20-inch- long bodies across land to get from one pond to another, ergo the moniker “walking.”

With such an abundance of species here in the Gables, why not start your own family or neighborhood wildlife inventory today?

Photos by: Don Elliot and Karen F. Buchsbaum


To report concerns about crocodiles or alligators, call: 899-FWC-GATOR (866- 392-4286)
To report sick, injured, or dead wildlife contact: https://myfwc.com/contact/ incident-reporting/
Injured birds or mammals can also be dropped off 24 hours a day at Pelican Harbor Seabird Station, located at 1279 NE 79th St. Scores of Gables residents have done so. www.pelicanharbor.org 

3 thoughts on “Wildlife in the Urban Tropics

  • January 2, 2023 at 12:33 pm

    Great article! Love the photos!

  • January 2, 2023 at 12:35 pm

    Great article, Karen! And great photos by Don Eliot. No pythons? We have seen them in the Gables near canals.
    What camera does Don use?

  • January 5, 2023 at 9:23 am

    A delightful & informative coverage of local wildlife.

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