Birdwatching in Florida

Roseate Spoonbill at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
Roseate Spoonbill at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. ©jcleveland

Florida is home to so many birds waiting for you to come check them out. The diverse habitats include beaches, wetlands, forests and grasslands that attract a variety of species, which makes birdwatching in Florida a great hobby.

Here are some popular locations for birdwatching in Florida and the types of birds you can expect to see in Florida:

Everglades National Park:

You’ll find many species of birds calling the Everglades home. Those species include wading birds, including herons, egrets, and ibises. You may also spot the Roseate Spoonbill, Anhinga, and the endangered Florida Snail Kite. I’ve seen the Roseate Spoonbill along the road eating from the culverts in the Indian River County area, as well as at the next stop on our tour.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge:

This refuge, located near Cape Canaveral, provides a habitat for over 300 bird species. During the winter months, you may encounter migratory birds such as American White Pelicans, Northern Pintails, and a variety of shorebirds. This is also one of the few locations where you can see the Florida Scrub-Jay. I wanted to explore the painted bunting nesting area, but no matter how far I hiked or where I went, they were not to be found. As it turned out, they showed up in my front yard the following month, so you never know what birds are around.

I have seen a lot of Scrub-Jays around my home, so they are also out in some of the Brevard County uninhabited areas. Those areas are quickly being developed, so it won’t be long before they are gone from here.

This is the feeder I use in my yard, but I have it on a pole with a baffle on it to keep the squirrels out. This makes it really easy to see the birds. The only problem is that the mourning doves are ground feeders, so they plant themselves in it and refuse to move. They are pigs.

Dry Tortugas National Park:

Accessible by boat or seaplane, this park is a group of seven islands located about 70 miles west of Key West. You can spot seabirds such as Sooty Terns, Brown Noddies, and Magnificent Frigatebirds. It’s also an important location for migratory birds during spring and fall. Put this on the list of places to do birdwatching in Florida.

J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge:

Located on Sanibel Island, this refuge is home to many wading birds, such as the Reddish Egret and Roseate Spoonbill. The White Pelican can be seen here on their migratory path.

Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary:

Situated near Naples, this sanctuary is known for its boardwalk, which takes you through a variety of habitats, including cypress forests, wet prairies, and marshes. You may spot Wood Storks, Limpkins, and Barred Owls, among other species.

Fort De Soto Park:

This park, located near St. Petersburg, is a popular spot for shorebirds such as Piping Plovers, Red Knots, and Black-bellied Plovers. You may also find warblers and other migratory songbirds during spring and fall migrations.

Wakodahatchee Wetlands:

Located in Delray Beach, you’ll find many wading birds Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, and Green Herons. You can also spot Purple Gallinules, Least Bitterns, and Black-necked Stilts here while birdwatching in Florida.

In addition to wading and shore birds, don’t overlook the raptors that inhabit the state and some migratory hawks. We see red-shouldered hawks, falcons, red-tail hawks, owls and so many other raptors that like to eat the squirrels and fish around my home.

Be Prepared to Hike

Buy a good pair of binoculars and a zoom lens for your camera, so you can take longshots without getting off the trails. You can use a field guide on your cellphone (or the Merlin app from Cornell University, which is an amazing app that I use all the time), but you may find cellphone coverage spotty depending on where you’re hiking. It doesn’t hurt to have a small bird guide for your pocket.

These are good guides. I like that the Birds of Florida Field Guide has a painted bunting on the front.

Make sure that you dress for the weather and don’t wear open-toed shoes. Hiking boots with ankle coverage might be best. We do have rattlesnakes and other bitey kinda snakes.

Mosquitoes will try to make you their lunch no matter what time of the year you go birdwatching in Florida. They never go away. Ever.  So, wear whatever protection you need to keep from getting eaten alive, as well as sunscreen for sunny days.

Seriously, don’t be a hero.

Additionally, follow birdwatching ethics, such as not disturbing nesting birds and staying on designated trails.

If you’re lucky and live in Florida, then look out your front window and see if you can find a good place to put in a bird feeder that will bring birds to you. I enjoy my annual visit from the painted buntings. If you don’t live here, then come on down and do some birdwatching in Florida!

Photo of the Month of June 2021

Well, I don’t know when this happened, but we became home to two little Titmouses – Titmice – not sure what the plural of Titmouse is. We were surprised to see them sitting in the feeder one summer morning. 

I got a cool app for my phone. Merlin bird identifier, so if you have sounds in the yard you don’t recognize, this little app will help you figure out what birds are using your yard for their social activities. I have discovered a worm eater warbler, a Cooper hawk and a hoot owl all have been chatting amongst themselves in the morning. The hardest part has been isolating the cicada noise, so morning is the best time to listen for birds.

Photo of the Month of April 2021

After wandering around in the Wildlife Preserve looking for the painted bunting and not seeing one, it was rather exciting to find out that he was sitting in my front yard feeder all along. We had a pair that spent a few months with us. There must have been something very yummy in the seed mix. 

Now, they have flown off to spend a season breeding, and hopefully, they will remember the birdfeeder when next winter rolls around. 

Photo of the Month of February 2021

A trip to the Canaveral Seashore and Wildlife Preserve offered a glimpse into the swamps of Florida from the mosquito-free safety of my car. While there were bald eagles, kingfishers, egrets, alligators, wild hogs and more, my day was complete when I saw a flock of spoonbills lounging around in the muck and  mire. 

I have seen these funny pink birds flying over or gathering in drainage ditches, but I wanted to see them in the wild. Now, I have. I also saw some scrub jays – very endangered – but they were hanging out on telephone wires in the neighborhood. Not quite the same. 

Photo of the Month of May 2020

This Pilates Woodpecker has found the old Hickory tree to be a  smorgasbord of good eats. My idea of good eats and his are probably very different. 

We have a pair that hangs out around our home eating up old trees and searching for goodies in rotted limbs. 

Their call and response is fun to listen to even if their constant rat-ta-tat-tat can be a distraction while trying to work. 

Photo of the Month of February 2020

The doves try to dominate the flat feeder, and this red-headed woodpecker is having none of it. He has crouched down and prepared to take a bite out of the dove that is trying to push him out. 

These little skirmishes go on day in and day out. Doves sit and eat rather than perch and eat, so they will camp out in the feeder and not let anyone in unless I shoo them away. 

Since their behavior is so obnoxious, I wish they would take their voracious appetites elsewhere.