InterMiami Soccer Club Crest Carries Bird That Is South Florida's Own

Sep 6, 2018

Miami's new professional soccer team has a name and a crest that features two birds.

The birds, Great White Herons, are unique to South Florida. They even have a national wildlife refuge named after them. 

Club Internacional de Fútbol Miami (InterMiami for short) unveiled the crest, along with its name, this week.

In the center, two birds stand back-to-back, their legs intertwined to form an "M" shape.

John James Audubon observed and collected Great White Herons in the Florida Keys in 1832.
Credit National Audubon Society

According to the club, the Great White Herons were chosen because they are "tenacious [hunters] of land and sea, noble species of the skies. They are the guardians at our gateway to the Americas. They are stoic and intelligent but strike with fierce accuracy."

Great White Herons were first identified in 1832 by naturalist and painter John James Audubon, who observed and collected examples of the bird in the Florida Keys.

Audubon described it as "the largest species of the Heron tribe hitherto found in the United States, and which is indeed remarkable not only for its great size, but also for the pure white of its plumage at every period of its life."

Great White Herons are beautiful and remarkable and in the U.S., they're only found in South Florida and only nest in the Keys and Florida Bay. But they're not considered a species.

In 1973, the American Ornithologists' Union reclassified the bird as a subspecies of the Great Blue Heron, which is common throughout North America.

"As indicated by the differing views on the Great White Heron, it falls into the gray area between subspecies and species," Terry Chesser, chair of the American Ornithological Society's Committee on Classification and Nomenclature for North and Middle America, wrote in an email. "It's possible that more data will result in future changes to its status, but for now it's considered a subspecies."

Losing its status as a species has not changed its status as the namesake of a national wildlife refuge.

"There's no question that they're unique, that they're special," said Dan Clark, who manages the four national wildlife refuges in the Keys.

The crest for Miami's new soccer team.
Credit Club Internacional de Fútbol Miami

Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge was created in 1938 to protect the wading birds that nest on the islands of the Lower Keys and had been hunted relentlessly to fuel the demand for plumes on ladies' hats.

"I think it really is an important designation because of the purpose," Clark said. "Those birds were in jeopardy of basically being hunted to extinction in the United States."

The refuge was probably named for the Great White Heron and not, say, the Great Egret or the White Ibis, because South Florida is its only known nesting area, Clark said.

The refuge covers 117,000 acres in the backcountry area, or Gulf side, of the Lower Keys. Seagrass beds provide feeding areas and the birds nest on the mangrove islands.

The list of species maintained by the American Ornitholigical Society determines whether birders can count a species on their checklists. The number on lists comes into play especially for birders competing to see the most birds, as recounted in the book The Big Year. That book was adapted into a movie starring Steve Martin and Owen Wilson as rival birders.

The Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge was designated in 1938 and covers about 117,000 acres in the backcountry of the Lower Keys.
Credit U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

"You can't count it on your big year list currently, but I don't know any birder that doesn't get a charge out of seeing a Great White Heron in South Florida and the Keys," said Jeffrey Gordon, president of the American Birding Association. That's the group that sets the rules for birders competing to see the most birds in North America.

"It's just this really cool South Florida riff on an old friend. Great Blue Heron is just an iconic bird. You see it all over the place," Gordon said. "Then you get down to South Florida and the Keys and there's this amazing saltwater-loving, mangrove-affiliated just immaculate white form of it. Whether you consider it a full species or a subspecies, it's worth our time and attention and our notice and our celebration."

Gordon said he appreciates the new team's selection of the Great White Heron.

"They are tenacious, they do strike quickly and accurately," he said. "So for a soccer team that's based in South Florida, I think it's a great choice."