Florida wetlands walking tour woman tourist taking photo with camera of wildlife animal of the Everglades, Keys, USA.
Florida wetlands walking tour woman tourist taking photo with camera of wildlife animal of the Everglades, Keys, USA.

10 Best Hotspots For Bird-watching In Florida

Where Can You Go Birding in the State of Florida?


By Sherri Eisenberg | Published on April 7, 2023

 

I grew up in the Northeast, where each fall season I would watch birds fly south for the winter in fascinating "V" formations. As a child I wondered, "Where are they going to escape the cold?" The answer, of course, is Florida. Birds fly south for the same reasons that retirees do: sunshine, beaches and the great outdoors. When the mercury drops up north, the birds migrating south put on a warm-weather show, making bird-watching in Florida a sight to behold.

In the winter months, avid bird-watchers tend to head out early in the morning, between dawn and 11 a.m. While the northern part of the state sees the most birds in wintertime, the southern part sees migrant land birds in the spring.

You can find feathered friends in Florida's mangrove swamps, mud flats, hardwood forests or beside rivers or lakes. When you travel to Florida, explore on your own or join a bird-watching tour of these excellent locations for spotting birds.

1. Hike In Apalachicola National Forest

Located in Florida's northern panhandle outside of Tallahassee, Apalachicola spans 632,890 acres and is the largest state forest in the state. While you may see black bears, bobcats, wild turkeys, gray foxes or alligators, you can also look for endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers on birding tours. There are plenty of ways to explore this sprawling forest, including boating (motorized and non-motorized), horseback riding, swimming and hiking.

2. Visit St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge

Just a little further east on the panhandle, this wildlife refuge is a prime birding hotspot. In fact, it was actually established in 1931 to provide a safe space for migratory birds. With so many trails fit for hiking and biking, be aware that they're sometimes closed to preserve shorebird, waterfowl and eagle nests.

3. Birding In The Tomoka Marsh Aquatic Preserve

Located on the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, this bird-watching haven in Northeast Florida hosts over 160 species of birds, including majestic bald eagles. Camp, boat, canoe, kayak, stay on land and go geocaching or learn about the native Timucua people — but always keep your eyes peeled for wood storks, loons, gulls and wading birds because this is considered by many to be the best area with the most birds for bird-watching in Florida.

4. Bird-Spot By Car In Merritt Island National Refuge

Just north of the John F. Kennedy Space Center on Cape Canaveral, this 140,000-acre island refuge is home to 1,500 species of plants and wildlife, including 367 bird species. At the visitor's center, you'll find exhibits, movies and ranger-led programming for all ages as well as information about birding in Florida and details about the trails and boat ramps. As you explore the refuge, you can look for bald eagles, brown pelicans, reddish egrets and roseate spoonbills, which have a gorgeous pink hue similar to a flamingo. Black Point Wildlife Drive, the most popular route, is a seven-mile tour for cars; Wild Bird Trail is a hike-able gravel path that's a half-mile roundtrip leading to two observation blinds for bird-watchers.

5. Swamp Buggy Through The Disney Wilderness Preserve

Located south of Orlando in Kissimmee, this 11,500-acre Central Florida nature preserve was created as a partnership among the state of Florida, the Walt Disney Company and the Nature Conservancy. Rare birds that have been spotted here include red-cockaded woodpeckers, wood storks, sandhill cranes and bald eagles. Explore the hiking trails on foot or set off on guided swamp buggy bird-watching tours, and expect to see plenty of other wildlife along the way.

6. Count Birds In Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

This National Audubon Society sanctuary in southwest Florida is home to a boardwalk and giant cypress trees. More importantly, it's home to an impressive list of birds, including herons, vultures, hawks, owls, woodpeckers, egrets, doves and ducks, as well as warblers, wrens and jays. The swamps are also home to wood storks, and there have been sightings of pink flamingos in the Everglades. For lovers of all things wildlife, there are also brown bears, panthers, rabbits and bobcats to look out for. There's also an annual bird count event here around Christmastime — how many can you count for yourself?

7. Bird-Watch In Big Cypress National Preserve

Further inland between Naples and Marco Island, this preserved swampland is home to eight campgrounds as well as the endangered Florida panther. You can hike the trails, take a driving tour or take to the water by kayak, canoe, swamp buggy or airboat, keeping your eyes peeled for a variety of birds. In addition to wading birds such as herons, egrets, spoonbills and ibis (which are gorgeous white birds with red legs and bills), you can spot red-shouldered hawks, purple martins and northern mockingbirds. Be on alert as alligators and pythons also make their homes here, and during hunting season, it's suggested that all hikers wear orange vests.

8. Keep An Eye Out In Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge

Situated between West Palm Beach and Boca Raton on Florida's southeast coast, this wetland preserve on the edge of the Everglades offers nature trails, bicycle paths, fishing and canoeing, and — of course — with bird-watching. Along the boardwalk built over the cypress swamp, you'll find the endangered Everglades snail kite, owls, colorful parakeets, wading birds such as herons, egrets, ibis and bitterns, water birds such as ducks, moorhens, coots and grebes, and raptors such as hawks, vultures, falcons and ospreys. Florida is a birding hotspot, and if you're looking to see other animals, keep your eyes peeled for bobcats, white-tailed deer, raccoons and river otters.

9. Study Ecosystems In Everglades National Park

This 1.5 million-acre park stretches across the southern tip of the state and is easily accessible from Miami, Everglades City and Homestead. Everglades National Park has some of the best birding in Florida thanks to its many ecosystems, including tropical hardwood hammocks, cypress forests, mangroves, coastal lowlands, marines, freshwater sloughs, prairies, pinelands and estuaries. Whether you kayak, bike, canoe or hike, the dry season — which stretches from December through April — is the best time for birdwatching. In addition to stunning birds such as blue herons and roseate spoonbills, you can see turtles, alligators, crocodiles, manatees and even dolphins.

10. Soak Up Island Time In Dry Tortugas National Park

Located at the western edge of the Florida Keys, about 70 miles west of Key West, this remote park on a cluster of seven islands is only for serious birders, as it's reachable only by boat or seaplane. In addition to coral reefs and the historic 19th-century Fort Jefferson, you can spot masked boobies, black skimmers and brown pelicans. 

Pack your binoculars and prepare for the best birding experiences when you cruise out of Florida.

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