One of the Southeast’s most endangered fishes, the Watercress Darter, has five remaining populations, and one of these is at Roebuck Spring. Because all the populations are within the metropolitan area, Birmingham is one of the few cities in the world that can claim to be the only home for a species.
You’ll not see any darters if you visit. They are tiny and hide within dense vegetation; catching them without state and federal permits is illegal. However, you can observe many other plants and animals at Roebuck Spring.
Look for different types of aquatic plants (including Lizard’s Tail, Alligator Weed, and Watercress) next to the spring pool and along the spring’s run (stream). Each species prefers a different type of habitat. There’s an impressively huge and very old American Sycamore tree along the spring run near the tennis courts. Look for its multicolored bark and white branches. Birds often nest and roost in its cavities.
Birds are always present and easy to find at the spring. Watch for Great Blue Herons and Yellow-crowned Night Herons feeding along the water’s edge. They eat a lot of minnows and crayfish. Red-headed Woodpeckers, Red-shouldered Hawks, Indigo Buntings, Gray Catbirds, American Goldfinches, and Song Sparrows are just a handful of the birds nesting here in late spring and summer. Barn Swallows nest underneath nearby bridges on I-59. They often swoop low over the spring pool to drink water and catch insects. In fall and spring, many migrating birds use the vegetation along the spring and its run to feed and rest. In winter, look for a duck called a Hooded Merganser that hunts for fish in the spring pool near the tennis courts.
You’ll also find mammals at the spring. North American Beavers and Muskrats are most frequently seen in the early morning or evening when swimming across the spring pool. Muskrats can be seen in the pool or feeding in the spring run. Muskrats are much smaller than beavers and have a thin tail instead of a broad, flattened tail like the beaver. Beavers are vegetarians, preferring the inner bark of trees and shrubs. Muskrats eat a lot of vegetation, but they also eat small animals. American Mink have been spotted at the spring. These small otter-like animals hunt fish, crayfish, and other aquatic animals.
Largemouth Bass are often seen cruising in the deeper sections of the pool and run. Minnows, including the Western Mosquitofish, Alabama Hogsucker, and the Largescale Stoneroller, are always present and easily seen near culverts.
When the sun is out, watch for turtles basking on logs in the spring pool. By soaking up the sun’s heat, the turtles can stay active when they return to the water to feed. Most of the turtles you will see are vegetarians, but one – the Common Snapping Turtle – is a carnivore with formidably strong jaws.
-R. Scot Duncan